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Published: 27 May 2010      

Le Havre in the spotlight

France's biggest container port has been attracting attention – not all of it welcome

At the start of this month, the port welcomed the arrival of four giant cranes from ZPMC in China, for GMP's operation at the Port 2000 tidal complex. The new cranes, slated for commissioning shortly, bring to 10 the number of superpost-Panamax cranes at the Port 2000 berths.

However, the port has been hit by periodic industrial action over the changes introduced under the 2008 national port reform law, particularly concerning the change of employment status of crane drivers and maintenance staff, who have to be transferred from the payroll of the port authority to the payrolls of the terminal operators.

The port's director, Laurent Castaing, has reached the end of his tether, and called on the state to mediate and get all parties round the table to hammer out a solution.

Meanwhile, Véronique Lepine, chairwoman of GHAAM (the Le Havre association of ship owners and ship agents), has stated that the strikes are costing the port 4000 containers a week; while other ports on the North Continent range have started to recover from the economic crisis, growing on average 10% this year, Le Havre's growth has been only 3%.

If these problems were not enough, the port has been deeply embarrassed by last month's competition authority ruling that several operators colluded on pricing and customer sharing deals between 2006 and 2008.

Meetings organised by the port authority itself at the end of 2006 ended up with three operators sharing the capacity of Port 2000, then still in course of development.

The operators concerned are: TPO (Terminal Porte Océane), affiliated to long-standing Le Havre company Perrigault and A P Moller-Maersk; TN/MSC, affiliated to Perrigault's Terminaux de Normandie and MSC's Terminal Investment Ltd; and GMP, part of Portsynergy, the 50:50 joint venture of CMA-CGM and DP World.

On the capacity share count, the companies have been fined €150,000, while the port authority (then a port autonome, but now a Grand Port Maritime), has escaped sanction (so far at least).

On the competition aspects of sharing clients, the fines have been stiffer, with Perrigault group being fined €370,000 and TPO €105,000. The agreement stipulated that TPO would not compete with the "historic" terminal operators in Le Havre located inside the François Premier lock.

It was no less than Maersk itself, through APM Terminals, which referred the matter to the competition authority in January 2008, on the ground that the agreement was damaging the development of TPO, which was run by Perrigault.

  • Throughput at Marseilles-Fos topped 29 Mt to the end of April - a 6% increase on the first four months last year. April traffic underlined the 1Q/10 upturn in container volumes and local steel and chemicals output. Container tonnage and units rose 17% to 3.3 Mt and 331,396 TEU. The deepsea Fos terminal added 10% to 244,093 TEU, while the Marseilles harbour area, specialising in intra-Mediterranean trades, improved 41% to 87,303 TEU. Led by containers, general cargo was up 16% on 5.2 Mt. Ro-ro traffic slipped 5% to 1.2 Mt, representing 52,459 trailers (-7%), but conventional trades grew by 68% ahead to 0.75 Mt in line with revived demand for steel products.



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