Caronte&Tourist expanded their rule in Sicily
Having already been awarded the regional contracts for the Aeolian, Ustica and Aegadian islands (more than half of former Siremar’s agreement), the group took over TdI, concessionaire of the grants related to Pantelleria and Pelagie islands, from Liberty Lines
Shipowner Vincenzo Franza revealed to the newspaper La Sicilia that Caronte&Tourist took over the controlling stake (51%) held by Liberty Lines in Traghetti delle Isole since the beginning of 2017, right before being involved in the Mare Monstrum investigation carried out by the offices of the public prosecutors of Trapani and Palermo.
This seems to be the cause of the transaction as, although the takeover did not work out for the holding company, the Morace family, involved in the investigation, seems to be determined to leave the sector. On the other hand, the transfer of the company Traghetti delle Isole – with a positive balance (1.4 million profits in 2017) and, despite a few problems due to the advanced age of its fleet, a solid financial position based on its existing agreement with the Region – is the purchaser’s umpteenth expansion transaction in Sicily.
As a matter of fact, TdI was awarded several contracts with the Region concerning connections with the Pelagie Islands and Pantelleria until December 2020 (some 57 million euro in 5 years, starting from the award at the end of 2015), while Caronte, through its acquired company Navigazione Generale Italiana, is the counterpart of the regional body for the remaining services (Aegadian, Aeolian and Ustica islands, worth the same amount). Moreover, it also inherited – under SNS, shared with Liberty – Siremar’s state grant (over 55 million euro per year in total until 2028) related to ro-pax (Liberty deals with fast connections).
To the inevitable question about an almost monopolistic scenario, as the association Consumatori Associati defined it (appealing to the European Commission following the Administrative Justice Council’s judgement), Franza observed: “There are periodic and regular tenders: if we are awarded tender contracts, it means that we are the most qualified operator”. The regional department remained silent as usual.
Neither Caronte nor (for now) the company registration report provide any details, while the shipowner – who became TdI’s Chairman leaving Francesco Fontana at its helm and adding Edoardo Bonano (managing director of Isole Minori, i.e. former Siremar) to its Board of Directors – is planning another investment in a new vessel, referring again to the funds allocated by the 2016 Financial Act for the renewal of the fleets deployed for public maritime local transport, some sixty million of which were assigned to Sicily.
Communication manager Tiziano Minuti announced “the launching of a sister ship of Elio (the new unit built in Turkey and delivered recently) for next year”, pointing out that the investments referred to by Franza involve two units for Pantelleria and Lampedusa: “We are trying to make up for the institutions’ deficiencies as, due to shortage of funds, they cannot organize similar initiatives”.
Regional councillor Marco Falcone replied to these statements defining them as “odd and arrogant”: “Caronte is not making up for anything because maritime transport is paid by institutions, especially by the Region”.
Meanwhile, as concerns Liberty Lines and the so called Strait controversy, the company is thought to have gained time about the Italian Railway Network’s (RFI) proposal to charter two manned units (re-employing 45 out of the 72 seamen subject to dismissal procedures), hoping to make a new state call for tender for the fast connection service between Messina and Reggio Calabria.