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Marseille looking for the wind



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FRANCE / MAGHREB. The historic port for maritime connections with the Maghreb, Marseille has been experiencing a steady fall in roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) traffic which was further exacerbated in 2013. The actors of the port of Marseille Fos however believe there will be a recovery.



photo F. Dubessy
photo F. Dubessy
FRANCE / MAGHREB. Poor figures for Ro-Ro transport in Marseille. With 168,000 trailers in 2013, volumes were down 5.9% on 2012. “Normally, we deal with between 175,000 and 180,000”, states Arnaud Ranjard, Director of Development for the port of Marseille Fos (GPMM).  

Concentrated in the eastern docks, Ro-Ro transport – 4 million tonnes in 2013, equivalent to 40% of container traffic – is going through some difficult times. Last year, the number of trailers shipped to Corsica, the main destination for Ro-Ro transport from GPMM, accounting for some two thirds of all units, decreased by more than 7% (99,911 compared with 107,814 in 2012).  

This is a side-effect of the public service delegation contract awarded to SNCM for the transport of passengers between Marseille and Corsica. With the ships usually designed to carry both goods and passengers, the competition, which is gaining market share, load the trailers at the same location where the passengers embark: elsewhere than in Marseille. This situation benefits Toulon, the historical bastion of Corsica Ferries.

Slowdown in North African traffic

In 2013, traffic through Marseille fell 5.9% (photo F.Dubessy)
In 2013, traffic through Marseille fell 5.9% (photo F.Dubessy)
As for international traffic, this is not increasing, indeed, it is decreasing. In 2013, there was a 15% decline in traffic with Algeria, an 11.9% decline with Morocco, a 4.5% decline with Turkey (even though the Toulon-Pendik motorway of the sea, on which the Turkish shipping line UN RO-RO operates, is working well) and a 0.9% decline with Tunisia.  

The analysis of the causes of these falls constitutes a summary of the difficulties that Marseille is experiencing internationally, such as in Morocco. With 2,609 trailers in 2013, traffic on the historic Marseille-Casablanca route, operated by the shipping line CMA CGM, continues to decline. Shippers and carriers prefer the ‘road only’ option to Algeciras, adjudged to be quicker and cheaper.  

In addition to the competition provided by the road, there is also that of the major foreign ports. Marseille, like its fellow French ports in the Mediterranean, suffers from comparison with its Spanish and Italian rivals which often boast more flattering reputations. Despite the decrease, traffic from Barcelona, which has invested heavily in recent years, is increasing to Tunisia and Morocco.  

Gateway to the East, Marseille also suffers the consequences of the Arab Spring, even though trade with Tunisia has returned to its 2010 level. “The Libyan case is telling”, stresses Arnaud Ranjard. “In 2013, the three attempts to launch a route between Marseille and Libya all failed due to the latter’s instability.

Confidence in the future

Marseille however wants to believe in the future. “Shipping lines are currently equipping themselves with ro-pax ships, enabling the simultaneous transportation of both passengers and trailers, in order to better share the seasonal traffic between themselves”, notes Arnaud Ranjard. This trend is forcing the GPMM to count on a sustainable growth of Ro-Ro traffic in the Mediterranean in the hope of “dealing with around 10% of the 150,000 trailers that make up the annual traffic between the southern Mediterranean and northern Europe.”  

In fact, the GPMM states that it will integrate the particular needs of Ro-Ro into the development of the eastern docks and the Mourepiane combined transport terminal, which is due to enter service in 2016. “The new installations will have to provide more facilities for trailer parking as well as mobile scanners outside the terminals in order to improve fluidity”, remarks Marie-Hélène Pasquier, General Secretary of the Marseille-Fos Maritime and River Federation (UMF).  

The actors of the port of Marseille Fos also seek to promote the port and its facilities to prospective clients overseas. In November 2013, a delegation from Via Marseille Fos, the body for the commercial promotion of the GPMM, travelled to Turkey to meet shipowners, shippers and carriers. In June 2014, it will be the turn of a Turkish delegation to visit Marseille.  

The hardest part is the launch”, attests Marie-Hélène Pasquier. “The opening of a route represents a financial risk for the shipping lines which is in fact the biggest obstacle. Shippers and carriers want a service that is reliable, frequent and quick with a speed of twenty-one knots. However, sailing at such a speed requires high fuel consumption and, as a result, shipping lines hesitate.



Special issue : Market 14

Special issue Econostrum.info in partnership with Shippax


Mathieu Bouchard


Friday, May 23rd 2014



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