How would you assess the main advantages of the ports of Venice and Chioggia?
We went through major legislative reform in 2016, and the Italian port system now comprises 15 port authorities. The ports of Venice and Chioggia are under my authority. This adds some layers of complications, though it has given us possibility of working on a systemic level and allows us to use the best of both ports to increase capacity and output in terms of industry and our industrial hinterland. We have been a port for the last 1,200 years, and geography matters. Thanks to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Mediterranean basin is returning to a center position on the global stage of international trade. In the last 100 years, the port of Venice has developed into a large industrial cluster, with 2,200ha of port area, more than 1,200 enterprises, and jobs for more than 19,000 workers. Moreover, the position and the advantages granted by the port of Venice have allowed the famous northeast Italian region, the most dynamic cluster of industry, innovation, and development, to advance further. Being the system of ports serving this industrial hinterland is definitely an asset. We have many advantages that are certainly a plus for companies that want to use Venice as a gateway for import and exports, particularly with a focus on East Asia-Europe connectivity.
What strategic initiatives drove growth of the port in the last few years?
I devised a strategic plan of development comprising several layers. Until recently, the central focus was on the physical infrastructure, though the immaterial digital infrastructure is just as important. We have devised a development plan that combines the building of new infrastructures or additional railway connectivity rather than merely road connectivity, as well as a full digitization of our systems. We have increased nautical accessibility by creating a virtual copy of our port and the main navigation canals that are now projected on the AIS screen of ships. This dramatically increases the capacity of port activities on a 24/7 basis. We have improved land connectivity and are building a new rail bridge that will go directly to the high-capacity, high-speed line. This will reduce the time in which the train can be sent out straight from terminals to 20 minutes. When we put all the tiles together, the main picture is better and more efficient than before.
What is your vision of a model port?
We are pouring some EUR440 million into this and are devising all the different layers of projects and investments. We are on the leading edge of technology in building the green port of the future. Together with a private equity investment, we have created the largest coastal deposit of LNG in the entire Adriatic Sea. This project will receive almost EUR30 million in grants from Europe. It will be a state-of-the-art coastal deposit of LNG serving the inland service and will connect with the dry ports of Padua and Verona. We will also provide the latest bunkering to the LNG operated vessels of the future. First, we need to plan and invest in that in order to be ready to host those vessels coming into the market and will do so in the next three to five years. We have devised a modern system of treatment for water and rainwater as well. It is possible to combine sustainability and development and provide a strong efficient economy with an eye on the environment we are based in. Being green should be a key part of our activities. We are pushing hard on R&D to eventually devise technologies that will make our systems not just greener but also more efficient and ultimately economically viable and financially feasible.
What technologies are you currently implementing?
We are also devising systems to implement our logistics efficiency. We are developing our own fully-integrated port community system, and in the next two years we will have fully automated and digitized system of paperwork and exchange of data on a cloud where private and public bodies will all be integrated.
What can be done to boost cooperation at the local, regional, and international levels?
We need to work on stronger bonds with the other side of the Mediterranean. The continent with the highest rate of growth in the coming 100 years will be Africa, which is around the corner, though we are neglecting it. We could work strongly with the countries of the Black Sea Basin and the Caucasus. China is proposing a plan of connectivity going west; why are we not meeting it halfway, with plans of connectivity going eastbound, to ensure it will not decide everything? We should maintain strategic control over our supply and global value chains, particularly because as a continent we are a large manufacturing area, and we risk losing our competitive edge if we do not pay enough attention to them. At the moment, there is a strong gateway represented by the northern range; however, if the Mediterranean is to return to the center stage, then the southern range of ports in Italy, Spain, and the south of France needs to be equally considered and equal in infrastructure. In the last two revisions of the TEN-T, we connected the continent. However, how do we connect the continent to other continents? We need to create motorways of the seas. The Caucasus will be a great area of development thanks to the BRI, and we need to make the best out of it while we are still preserving and strengthening our economies and connectivity.
What should we expect from the port authority and the transportation sector for 2020?
We have to complete our current investment and infrastructure plans and are working to participate in all those meetings at a European level to support and bring a revised vision of TEN-T and a distribution of funds. We are cooperating in the Mediterranean and are fostering new agreements with additional Chinese authorities and ports. We are bringing more vessels and feeder services. We also want to expand our clout to all the countries, as everyone is talking about BRI as though it is only China; however, there are 100 countries in between. We are dealing with Indonesia, we have a sister agreement with the port of Vung Tau in Vietnam, and we are developing relationships with Port Klang in Malaysia and the ports in the Middle East and the Gulf in order to develop commercial agreements and MoUs. We also have strong ties with the port of Qatar. We are developing a strong plan of exchange of data and implementation of new lines with the ports of Damietta and Alexandria. The whole idea is to push our boundaries and ideas and think outside the box. We want the ports of Venice and Chioggia to be the best they can be.