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Published: 11 November 2014      

SNCM declared bankrupt

France's SNCM (Société Nationale Corse Méditerranée) lost €40M in 2013 and is forecast to lose another €50M this year. With the bankruptcy application accepted by the court, 2000 jobs are at risk

The French mainland-Corsica and North Africa ro-pax operator has booked losses every year since its creation in 1969 by SNCF and [the then] CGM, despite mounting state subsidies and, on top of mounting losses, it is facing a penalty of more than €200M from the EU for illegal state aids since it was privatised in 2006.

The French state still owns 25% of SNCM, but the majority owner is Transdev, a PPP including Véolia, with 66%. Transdev initiated the bankruptcy proceedings in order to save the company. SNCM currently accounts for around 650 passengers per employee/year on its routes linking Corsica and Sardinia with the mainland (Toulon, Marseilles and Nice), while the same metric for its main competitor, Italy's Corsica Ferries, is around 2000. The majority trades union involved is the CGT and all previous attempts reform the manning structure have failed.

Nevertheless, Transdev believes that SNCM can be a going concern and says that five or six companies have expressed interest. One of these is Mexico's Baja Ferries. Baja is a much smaller operation than SNCM, with a turnover equivalent to €110M compared to SNCM's €400M. Its business plan for SNCM includes a drastic cut in the payroll, from 2800 to 1500.

Baja is, like SNCM, a "cabotage" operator, running ferries between Mexico's Lower California peninsula and Mazatlán in Sinaloa province on the mainland. The company is run from Miami by Lebanese-born French ship owner Daniel Berrebi, and some commentators have drawn a parallel with Jacques Saadé, who has a similar background.

Saadé was the owner of a small Marseilles shipping company, CMA, which acquired for next to nothing the struggling CGM, itself formed from the merger of Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (French Line) and Messageries Maritimes. Today CMA CGM is the world's third biggest container line.

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