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Med Hubs: Marseille port looks north

In our ongoing series of Mediterranean hub profiles, today we’re in France’s second city looking at the port’s northern ambitions.

The Grand Port Maritime de Marseille-Fos bounced back in very solid fashion last year – it now wants to take cargo away from some of the big names up north.

Last year, Marseille-Fos, France’s top port, handled 75m tonnes of cargo including 1.5m teu of containers of which 218,000 teu were moved by rail.

“The port of Marseille-Fos is becoming more than ever the southern gateway of Europe, conquering its hinterland,” said Elisabeth Ayrault, president of the port’s supervisory board while unveiling the 2021 results. The port, she said, is positioning itself as the bridgehead of the axis linking the Mediterranean with the Rhône and Saône rivers with ever greater rail links.

“The opportunities offered by this vision of a major axis are vast, both in the fields of containers and logistics, as well as in industry and the energy and digital transitions,” Ayrault added.

Marseille’s largest and best-known shipping line, CMA CGM, launched in January two rail services between Duisburg in Germany and Marseille-Fos.

“This service offers an alternative to the North European ports and proposes to our customers a more environmentally friendly mode of transportation,” a spokesperson for the liner firm tells Splash.

This is part of a wider push by the local port community to take advantage of the environmental transition to allow the port to capture maritime flows that currently pass through to the north by transferring them to rail or barge.

“Serving northern Europe from Asia represents five more days at sea at a time when fuel prices are very high,” points out Alain Mistre, the president of the local Maritime and Fluvial Union (UMF).

As befits a top global port in the 2020s, Marseille-Fos is helping lead the way when it comes to shipping’s transition to alternative fuels. The port is working with Paris-headquartered H2V to establish a new industrial facility to produce green hydrogen.

Costing around €750m, the development of this production plant aims to help decarbonise operations in the Fos industrial port area.

During development, six hydrogen production units of around 600 MW will be built between 2026 and 2031 on a 36 ha site.

The port is one of the world’s top LNG bunkering hubs, thanks in no small part to CMA CGM as a top client and its supplier French energy major TotalEnergies. The aim now is to develop greener versions of this fuel.

The first French project to produce liquefied biomethane, a low-carbon non-fossil fuel, was launched at the port last year. The project converts the biodegradable part of household waste from the Marseille Provence region into fuel that will go on CMA CGM’s ships.

CMA CGM has also recently joined an industrial demonstrator project that aims to produce green hydrogen from renewable power and also e-methane, a synthetic gas using hydrogen and CO2 captured from the industrial process.

Piloted by the French natural gas transmission system operator, GRTgaz, the Jupiter 1000 project in Fos-sur-Mer is intended to provide solutions to the challenge of decarbonising gas networks and the intermittent nature of renewable energy. The idea is to convert a portion of renewable power, at times when it is abundant, into hydrogen and e-methane so it can be stored on a large scale and for lengthy periods.

Beyond producing hydrogen, Jupiter 1000 also recycles CO2 by converting it into synthetic gas in a methanation unit.

Across the Mediterranean maritime hubs are developing, offering a full range of services and establishing themselves at shipping’s top table. Splash identified the five leading maritime capitals in the region – Athens, Genoa Limassol, Marseille and Monaco – and assigned correspondents to report on their individual strengths for a special glossy magazine. Splash readers can access the full magazine online by clicking here.


Splash is Asia Shipping Media’s flagship title offering timely, informed and global news from the maritime industry 24/7.
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