Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean



Southern Europe is banking on container shipping to boost ro-ro



Ports in southern Europe are working hard to lure container traffic from Anvers and Rotterdam. An increase in ro-ro traffic could follow in its wake.

(photo CC-JSáez)
(photo CC-JSáez)
MEDITERRANEAN. “Ro-ro traffic in the Mediterranean is subject to two constraints: the speed and cost of the supply of goods,” says Paul Tourret, Director of the Superior Institute of Maritime Economy (Isemar). “Shipowners make their decisions based on these factors.” At the moment, it is difficult to envisage a more efficient solution than road in southern Europe. Ro-ro services are mainly used for perishable goods: supplies for mass distribution in the islands and citrus fruits from the Maghreb consumed in Europe. Shipping lines are frequently opened between the two shores of the Mediterranean, but the post shipment solutions available as an alternative to road have so far failed to compete.

The sector works on a just-in-time basis and surrounding hinterlands are unable to benefit from the introduction of inland waterway and rail services. The majority of goods are already loaded on lorries and road currently offers more flexibility than any other mode of transport,” Paul Tourret explains. However, this situation could change with the increase in container flows. Ports in southern Europe are investing in improving their rail and waterway networks in an effort to win back traffic that passes through Anvers and Rotterdam. Quays in Barcelona (Spain) are being upgraded for rail services, new connections are being built in Ashdod (Israel), existing links are being extended in Rijeka (Croatia) and lines to La Spezia (Italy) are also being developed.

The projects planned for Europe are not progressing

Port of Barcelone (photo MN)
Port of Barcelone (photo MN)
In the south of the France, waterways at the ports of Sète and Marseille will be linked to inland ports on the Rhône in the Medlinks network. This development agency aims to transform 600km of waterways into a motorway. In 2014, 96,000 TEU were transported from the Port of Marseille via the Rhône, which is equivalent to 8% of container traffic. French operators have a long way to go: in 2013, the use of waterways (3%) was lower than in the rest of Europe (7%) and failed to match up to the Netherlands (43%). In both Rotterdam and Anvers, 40% of containers were transported by waterway.

The European Commission has been instrumental in this battle. Brussels has allocated €26.2 billion to transport projects within the framework of the Mechanism for Interconnection (MIE) between 2014 and 2020. The MIE supports projects contributing to the long-term completion of an extensive, efficient and sustainable network across the continent. The Juncker plan’s €315 billion investment could also play a key part in this. Most importantly, Europe has been working to build a Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) for 20 years. This multimodal grid defines the priority areas for development and aims to encourage trade relations between different states especially. The four “corridors” should strengthen Mediterranean ports’ links to northern Europe: from Algeciras (Spain) to Hungary, Palermo (Italy) to Finland, Genoa (Italy) to Rotterdam and Marseille to Scotland and Ireland. Around 50 ports in the western Mediterranean should benefit form these developments.
The most exciting opportunities for ports in the Mediterranean are in Bavaria in Germany,” says Paul Tourret. “But there is also potential in Switzerland, Austria and even in Hungary in the East. These countries are focused on northern Europe but they could benefit more from using ports in the Mediterranean.

According to the French International Road Transport Association (Aftri), the projects planned for Europe are not progressing due to a lack of real political will. The President of the Association Marc Grolleau says, “98% of freight from Morocco is loaded back onto lorries in Gibraltar because of poor ro-ro services.” According to Transcargo’s CEO, “One of the major advantages of ro-ro is speed. However, container shipping outweighs the benefits of these services if they slow down operations and can cost up to 50% less.” Unable to find partners, Aftri has abandoned the project to build a line from Marseille to Tangier, which it has been trying to get off the ground.

Caroline Garcia, MARSEILLE

Friday, April 24th 2015

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