20 - 26 June , 2001

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Malta Freeport remains tight-lipped over CMA pullout threat

Freeport officials refused to comment yesterday on the near-disastrous repercussions the corporation would face if, as is rumoured in business circles, it loses one of its major customers, CMA CGM.

The news that CMA CGM is reportedly holding discussions with Britain's P&O Ports over taking a major stake in the Cagliari International Container Terminal in Sardinia, first appeared in our sister paper, MaltaToday, last Sunday.

Asked to comment on the impact the Freeport would feel if CMA CGM moves the bulk of its business to Sardinia, general manager Joe Bugeja said the corporation had nothing to say at this stage.

But there is no doubt that losing CMA CGM, which currently provides the corporation with half its annual business or roughly 500,000 containers, would be a major blow for the Freeport.

In fact, it is estimated that the loss of business would bring the number of containers handled per year down to levels last seen in 1995.

CMA CGM is allegedly interested in acquiring a 70.3 per cent stake held by TCP, an Italian company that is 50 per cent-owned by P&O Ports.

However, if CMA CGM takes control of the terminal, speculation is running rampant to the effect that it would move the bulk of its 750,000 TEUs a year in transshipment traffic that it currently handles the Malta Freeport.

The proposal is likely to activate a shake-up of European hub operations by other principal carriers.

Zim Israel Navigation, a probable partner of CMA CGM on several routes, and Norasia Line, are also expected to move to Cagliari, which is said to be offering attractive berthing and crane rates.

P&O Ports acquired its stake in the Sardinian facility three years ago, but has failed to win any business and risks losing its 30-year operating concession if it does not sign up customers by the end of June. The company sees the sale of an equity stake as a way to attract and secure long-term business.

On a separate issue, CMA CGM and Maersk Sealand are considering the establishment of hub operations at a planned container terminal at Le Havre alongside Mediterranean Shipping Co.

MSC already is committed to boosting annual throughput to 500,000 TEUs by 2005 in return for the use of two berths at the facility, which will open in 2004.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt