24 JULY 2002
By Kurt Sansone
The commercial port in Venice, in which Malta Freeport chairman Marin Hili personally has a 50 per cent stake, can hardly be considered to be a threat for the Malta operation based at Birzebbuga.
But there is a hint of legitimacy in the concern expressed by the Labour Party over Marin Hilis perceived conflict of interest. A leading newspaper in the Venice region was upbeat about the potential of the Venice port following the new investment by Mr Hilis company.
The target for the Venice port, which only last month inaugurated a new 220-metre terminal is to handle 100,000 Teus by 2003, which is the same level that Malta Freeport handled in 1990. Today the Malta Freeport handles just over one million Teus.
Furthermore, the Venice port can only handle ships requiring a depth of up to 12 metres. The Malta Freeport can handle ships requiring a depth of up to 15.5 metres.
In more ways than one the Venice operation is small when compared to the Freeport apart from the fact that it is not geographically suited to act as a transhipment hub, which is the Malta ports declared mission statement. But this has not stopped the Labour Opposition from crying foul over Marin Hilis decision to personally invest in the Italian port.
Mr Hilis company, Mariner, purchased 50 per cent of the Venice port for EUR9 million (approx. Lm3.7 million) in June this year.
The Italian regional newspaper Il Gazzettino was extolled the potential of the Venice port when the new quay was inaugurated last month. The news report stated that the port was opening up to container traffic with a forecast of 100,000 Teus for next year.
"The sensation is that the Maltese group Mariner wants to be a protagonist in the growth of the terminal capitalising on the activities that make the terminal a big logistic and integrated platform," the newspaper commented. With these sort of comments emanating from the Venice region the Labour Partys concern is not that all out of place.