Covid-19 and the Economy of the Sea. Interview of La Repubblica with Stefano Messina

“With an investment of a few tens of millions, the continuity of a service that is going through a difficult phase can be guaranteed, the Ministry will listen to us”. Interview by Massimo Minella

“It is necessary to make concrete immediately from the outset the project of tax relief contributions for cabotage. Here we are talking about supporting Italian companies that employ Italian seafarers. And these are not state aid, but interventions compatible with the Treaty”. The appeal to the government is by Stefano Messina, president of Assarmatori. «We are talking about a few tens of millions that allow us to maintain the continuity of a vital service for the country. It is a common battle with Confitarma”.

“It’s not a question of association, the battle is on the common need to support cabotage in this critical phase”. Stefano Messina, president of Assarmatori and at the helm with his cousins, Ignazio Messina and Andrea Gais of the Genoese company “Messina” lists the difficulties that risk overwhelming the economy of the sea in times of this virus. But his is not a list of complaints, but an invitation to fight to support one of the vital sectors of the country.

April and May will also be months of great suffering, right?
“One risks being taken for granted, but it is so. The first two months went well, then the descent into cargo, raw materials, containers and multipurpose, and passengers began. The drop in production has repercussions on maritime transport, so gas and oil imports and container exports fall”.

What are you most concerned about?
“It is difficult to give a scale of priority, when everything is suffering, but certainly what passenger transport is experiencing on the front of cabotage and motorways of the sea is really heavy”.

And can action be taken?
“It can and must be done, because there is a need for specific intervention here. We have already discussed this with Minister De Micheli, who has always shown attention to our sector. Now is the time to act”.

How?
“We must go beyond the planned aid measures, such as liquidity for companies and the tax and social security moratorium, and arrive at an ad hoc measure. We must guarantee the continuity of connections and supplies with the islands. Let’s talk about serving 15 million people. Transport can be reduced, but specific measures are needed to maintain all services”.

Can the time variable from this point of view be decisive?
“That’s right, we are facing a picture that frightens, with a drop in summer reservations for the islands of 80, by 90%”.

But doesn’t the liquidity decree already offer answers?
“We have also examined it with the ABI, but the answers are not enough, it takes more specific applications than the decrees of the MEF and the MISE. Attention, we are not asking for money as a gift, but debt that companies will then pay off in the long run. And the liquidity that is needed in the short term because in these conditions it can last a few more months. The EBITDA with the frightening drop in revenue is eating up the cash and the liquidity reserves have been committed to investments”.

So what?
“So it is necessary to make the project of tax relief for cabotage concrete. They are there for the international register, in part they were in Italy until 2010, when they stopped due to the lack of coverage. We need to restore them, we agree with Confitarma. Here we talk about supporting Italian companies that employ Italian seafarers. And these are not state aid, but interventions compatible with the Treaty, as already demonstrated several times. We are talking about a few tens of millions that allow us to maintain the continuity of a vital service for the country. We hope that in the Easter Decree there will be clear answers”.

La Repubblica dated 14/04/2020 – page 6