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Venice, the Voops and the Silk road


The project of creating a Venice Offshore Onshore Port System (VOOPS) is fully mature from an administrative point of view (bureaucratic authorizations procedures started back in 2010).

CIPE (Inter-ministerial Committee on Economic Programming) can now meet the prescriptions of the Budgetary National Laws 2013 and 2014, that set by law to start “any activity related to the realization of the offshore Venice Platform (…)”, in a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model.

The conditions posed by the Board of Governors of Public Works that has recently given its favourable opinion on the VOOPS, have helped transform a defensive project -  of pure safeguard of Venice by removing oil tankers from its lagoon, once managed by the former Water Authority, into a more development-oriented project, now fully entrusted to the Venice Port Authority. A project capable to target local issues as well as regional, national, European and global challenges.

Safeguarding Venice and its lagoon, along with boosting the Venetian economy, are the prominent national interests acknowledged by the project, but two additional reasons for its accomplishment have emerged in the very last years.

Indeed, without the Offshore Port and the navigation locks at Malamocco, the nautical accessibility endangered by the MoSE system, cannot be granted at all, and there’s no real future for the port of Venice.

Without the port there is no real future for the revival of Marghera within the manufacturing/quasi-manufacturing/logistics continuum that can renew its lustre. And with no port and no Marghera, the heritage of Venice and its lagoon will set on the wretched path of a future dominated by an overwhelming destructive tourism.

But, and this is I would say quite a disruptive novelty, the offshore platform has been evolving from a merely sustainable double-handling system (managing cargoes directed to/from the single onshore point of Venice-Marghera), to a first-come-first-served unbundling offshore point of megacargoes, serving megaships of 180000 TEUs and beyond.

The novelty is that the European ports are lagging behind – and Rotterdam has paid for it a -4% drop in its container throughput this year – and that having sufficient water depths up to 20 meters is not enough, because what is really needed for managing megacargoes efficiently is to provide, simultaneously, wide operations spaces, highly efficient road, rail and inland waterway forwarding capacity.

A single service handling 10.000 TEUs per call on a weekly basis would generate a bigger volume of container than the present total TEU throughput of either the port of Trieste or Venice. As to allow these services to call Italian ports, presently not in their routes, canals of ports with adequate quays, yards and inland connections have to be dredged (e.g. Venice), and new and big port areas and inland connections have to be set up for those ports with adequate water depth (e.g. Trieste).

Intervening on both Venice and Trieste, ULCVs would find convenient to sail up the Adriatic Sea to serve, through its ports, the Italian and European industrial and manufacturing areas, presently fed via either the northern ports range or the Tyrrhenian ports, along maritime routes that do not minimize transport costs.

The added value, the “”Columbus’ egg”” of the Venice Offshore-Onshore Port System relies on the fact that a single offshore platform is capable of sorting magacargoes of megaships on several existing seaports (as Marghera, Chioggia, Porto Levante, but also Ravenna) and inland ports (as Mantua and Padua), thus enhancing existing infrastructures otherwise destined to obsolescence. Furthermore, the VOOPS can do it in a sustainable way because it distributes megacargoes on multiple infrastructures and transport systems, reducing congestion. This is the way Venice can help ensure that Italy will not be cut off from the megaships routes (over 18,000 TEU), destined to dominate the trade relationship between Europe and Asia.

This is what is all about and China has considered it in designing its Europe-Asia relations strategy (One Belt One Road) indicating Venice, together with Athens and Istanbul, as western terminal of the XXI° Century Maritime Silk Road.

An indication that, beyond the historical reference to Marco Polo, has more to do with the fact that China has realized that serving European markets from Venice (North Adriatic) means saving up to five sailing days in comparison with the lead time of Northern European ports and many kilometers of rail or road transit compared to other Mediterranean ports.

China has already considerably invested in Athens and Istanbul. The North Adriatic, with the ports of Venice and Trieste, is still playing its role and may become even more important than Piraeus (Athens) and Komport (Istanbul). The only condition to achieve this objective is to ensure high volumes of traffic forwarding capacity. The 6 million TEUs to be carried via the North Adriatic by 2030 is a reachable target, a goal capable of turning the Silk Road into a golden path passing through Venice and Trieste.

Download the PDF file of the article published on Il Corriere del Veneto (21th February 2016, italian version)

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