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Confitarma: Time for Italian owners to grow up

The newly elected chairman of the Italian shipowners association (Confitarma), Mario Mattioli, has some specific dossiers to work at in the coming years but the main challenge for the local shipping cluster is to keep the international register alive and competitive.

Speaking with Maritime CEO, the Naples-based shipowner at the helm of the family-owned group Cafima (controlling shipping companies Augusta Offshore, Capieci and Synergas) says he will be working “very hard” to keep an eye on regulations governing the nation’s international register, Italy’s tonnage tax regime.

“It’s a very important tool for keeping European flagged vessels competitive with competitors worldwide,” Mattioli argues.

“Our priority is to keep that register still active for the future and for the competitiveness of our national fleet. It’s not an advantage compared with the other industries but it represents the only way for a shipping company based in Italy to survive,” Mattioli says.

Presenting Confitarma’s to-do list, Mattioli also mentions the importance of the human capital factor in shipping today, which he defines as “crucial” and far more important than in the past.

The third big point about Confitarma’s “foreign policy” is to actively take a role in the discussions concerning new regulations impacting the shipping world and the climate change.

“We, as shipowners, have to participate in order to grant a better world to the future generations,” the Italian owner stresses.

Mattioli also talks about the increasing role of China both on the maritime transport side and on the infrastructure side, highlighting the importance of the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project whose amount of investments planned for the next 10 years – Mattioli says – is something like 12 times the present value of what was committed in the Marshall Plan by the US after the Second World War.

This new Silk Road initiative may represent a big opportunity of growth mainly for Italian ports since they can become the next preferred gateway for goods coming from Asia to Europe, while today cargo flows are more often unloaded in Northern Europe before being distributed in Central and sometimes also in Southern Europe.

On this subject Confitarma’s chairman says: “The OBOR project is of course challenging and scary at the same time but I think that the Italian players should be aware of this big opportunity mainly because to be at the ending part of the belt could represent an inversion of the tendency of what the flows are now. Many industries in the north of Italy import goods from the ports based in Germany and the Netherlands but the new infrastructure projects could instead inverse the trend and eventually Italy could become the arrival point of the goods due to be redistributed towards the north.”

By and large the new head of the Italian shipowners considers that what his country needs in order to make some steps forward in shipping and create a political consensus for the industry is a dedicated ministry for maritime affairs. “I’m not talking only about the shipowners, which are just a part of the chain,” he explains, adding: “The dream in Italy is not to go back to the ministry of the merchant marine but to have a sort of ministry of the sea, intending the sea as something that is really affecting the whole cluster: i.e. logistics, infrastructures and so on.”

The other main issue Mattioli is determined to fix is to reduce bureaucracy across the Mediterranean nation.

The Cafima boss also uses the Maritime CEO platform today to urge Europe to modernise its training facilities to make shipping a more attractive career option.

“Not only in Italy but also elsewhere in Europe we have A lack of officers onboard our ships,” Mattioli says.

Finally, commenting on how rapidly financial players have been progressively taking a leading role in the Italian shipowning market purchasing non-performing loans of companies involved in restructuring process (with Pillarstone Italy and Deutsche Bank at the forefront), the chairman of Confitarma concludes: “This is a new factor we have to take into consideration as it is the result of the rapidly changed ship finance business. I think it might also represent a breakthrough for our traditionally family based business model since small is beautiful is not working anymore probably. Shipping companies in Italy need to grow in many cases, to get further qualifications at the management level and my colleagues should be aware that a governance set-up is definitely more important today than going on following first hand the chartering operations of their fleet.”

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