Il Giornale interview with the President of Assarmatori, Stefano Messina: “We continue to bring Italians to the islands, but no one helps us”

The interview by Antonio Risolo from Il Giornale on 13 July 2020, page 15.

If Covid has brought the most diverse sectors of our economy to its knees, the maritime sector is the one most affected. Stefano Messina, President of Assarmatori and Vice President of Ignazio Messina & C., points the finger at the government that has not implemented specific aid except for the anchorage tax, and not even for a whole year. Few things considered, the 3 billion for air transport, compensation for railway losses and the rain of millions for scooters and the like.

President, what is the situation after the lockdown?
“Dramatic. Ours is a highly integrated sector, our ships carry raw materials like oil and gas, but also dry materials such as coal and steel. We are a transporter that exports a lot, the second largest manufacturer in Europe. Then there is passenger transport, from the excellence of cruises to ferry traffic. Passenger transport is fundamental for the country: it accounts for 14 billion out of 50 in Europe, with 120 thousand employees. In 2019 we broke all records with 13 million cruise passengers”.

What has the government done or not done?
“Nothing, we have been ignored. The ferry sector is undoubtedly the most penalized, with small and medium-large companies that provide connection services in the area, but which have suffered a drop in turnover of between 60 and 90%. The damage puts the continuity of business and the very survival of companies at great risk. Unfortunately, the government has left the shipping companies alone, which guarantee a strategic transport service. In the last ten years the so-called Motorways of the Sea have had a 100% increase in offer thanks to Italian shipowners who have made significant investments. Now, despite all the economic and financial problems, our shipowners are defending the jobs of seafarers. Which, I emphasize, are all Italians”.

Despite everything, the sector has never stopped. What are your proposals?
“We have asked for new financial resources, so far in vain. I remind the government that there is money already set aside by the State, provided for in the expenditure chapters thanks to a law of 1998 that allows shipowners who employ Italian personnel to have contributory aid. We need concrete aid for maritime transport which has never stopped but has suffered the zeroing of passenger flow turnover. Now, despite the slight upturn in tourism, we expect a drop of between 50 to 70% between tickets and ancillary revenue. The costs, on the contrary, are constant”.

There is a lot of talk about the blocking of layoffs…
“We are defending our employees’ jobs with all our energy. To fire them or lay them off is the worst defeat for us because they are specialized, trained personnel. But as we all know, jobs are not indefinitely defensible. It doesn’t sound like blackmail; I just hope I never get to the extreme point”.

Why in the last thirty years has the Blue Economy been so neglected?
“The economy of the sea is the most precious resource in our country: 45 billion in turnover per year, one million employees, over 3 points of national GDP. Yet, in addition to the government, we are also overlooked by the national media. It hurts to feel systematically ignored”.