Chinese Name: 瓦多利古雷港瓦多集装箱码头
Location: Vado Ligure, Liguria, Italy
Type of Project: Logistics
Project Developer(s): APM Terminals (50.1%); COSCO Shipping Ports (subsidiary of China COSCO Shipping Corporation Limited) (40%), Qingdao Port International (subsidiary of Shandong Port Group Co., Ltd.) (9.9%)
Main Contractor(s): COSCO Shipping Ports Limited
Known Financiers: n/a
Cost: The total investment for the construction of the Vado Ligure Gateway is 450 million EUR (COSCO Shipping Ports Corporation acquired 40% of the joint venture in charge of the development for 53 million EUR)
Project Status: Operational since December 2019
The port of Vado Ligure is composed by the Vado Refeer, operational since 1982, and the new Vado Gateway, which is our subject of interest. Both parts of the port are currently managed by APM Terminal Vado Ligure S.p.A., a joint venture between APM Terminals, part of the Danish giant Maersk, and the Chinese state-owned companies COSCO Shipping Ports and Qingdao Port International.
The joint venture was established in 2016. In 2007, APM Terminals, together with Grandi Lavori Fincosit and Technital won a tender for the ‘design and execution of the works for the new Multifunctional Platform of the Port of Vado Ligure and management of the part Container Terminal’, that is the Vado Gateway. However, according to an interview conducted by the author with an official at the Western Liguria Sea Port Authority (the Italian state body in charge of the ports of Genoa, Savona, Pra, and Vado Ligure), in the wake of the global financial crisis the consortium was no longer able to implement such a large project. To move forward with the project, in 2016 APM Terminals decided to establish APM Terminal Vado Ligure S.p.A., a new joint venture with COSCO Shipping Ports and Qingdao Port International. APM still owned the majority share (50.1%), while the two Chinese partners respectively held 40% and 9.9%.
Since Italian laws do not allow the actual ownership of ports and terminals, which are considered public infrastructure, it was agreed that APM Terminal Vado Ligure S.p.A. will manage the terminal for 50 years. This agreement is conditional on the company fulfilling its commercial obligations. After the 50 years are up, the Western Liguria Sea Port Authority will decide whether to renew the management contract. Vado Gateway was inaugurated on 12 December 2019, and the lines with the 400-metre quay became operational in February 2020. Due to the pandemic, however, the construction of what was supposed to be the new and special feature of the terminal, the 700-metre quay, was slowed down and officially completed only in July 2020.
The Vado Gateway’s capacity amounts to around 900,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per year, which, together with the 250,000 TEUs of the existing Reefer Terminal, will allow the Port of Vado Ligure to handle over one million containers every year. In addition, the Vado Gateway will be able to accommodate and operate the latest generation of container ships (ULCS) without any limitations. The yard used for container storage and handling is the first in Italy to be completely automated. The terminal is designed to provide intermodal connection, with up to 40% of the containers to be transported by rail. However, the intermodal rail connection is still under development.
The plan for the construction of the new Vado Gateway and the new joint venture with the two Chinese companies were agreed long before the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Italy and the People Republic of China on the cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in March 2019. Nonetheless, as an infrastructure project it aligns closely with the BRI agenda, especially considering the involvement of Chinese state-owned entities. Furthermore, as the Western Liguria Sea Port Authority was one of the official signatories of the March 2019 MoU, the Vado Ligure Terminal is likely to become an important component of the BRI in Italy.
The Port Authority of Western Liguria Sea was supposed to be involved in a second potential BRI-related partnership. The China Communications Construction Company, Ltd. (CCCC), another major state-owned enterprise, was planning to establish its presence in the area by participating in the public bid for a new breakwater dam in Genoa. CCCC participated through a consortium including local companies but did not win, placing only seventh. This put a temporary end to the company’s attempts to establish a presence in the area.
Another Chinese state-owned company had more luck in settling down in Liguria. In 2017, Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Company (ZPMC), specialised in the production of 80-meter-high ship-to-shore cranes used to load and unload containers, opened an office in Savona. Now ZPMC counts among its local customers both the terminal of Vado Ligure and that of Pra.
Since it long predated the controversies surrounding the signature of the BRI MoU in March 2019 (for details see the country profile for Italy), the Vado Ligure Terminal was not as controversial as other Chinese projects in Italy. However, according to interviews conducted by the author, since the signing of the MoU, the Western Liguria Sea Port Authority, just like the other signatories, has been under increased scrutiny in its other dealings with Chinese counterparts.
From a social point of view, the main impact of the project is in terms of employment. Forecasts made at the end of 2019 predicted that the port of Vado Ligure would employ around 390 people (240 from Vado Gateway and 150 from Reefer Terminal) by the end of January 2020. No newer data are available, but it is reasonable to assume that the pandemic has had a negative impact on such forecasts. The majority of the employees will be hired through a framework agreement signed with the Italian trade unions in 2018.