Sea Chefs to open a branch in Italy (if the Register grants green light)
The onboard retail Swiss group is negotiating to operate on Costa Crociere’s vessels, although the subcontract would not allow it to benefit from tax reliefs granted to the flag
The Swiss group Sea Chefs – leader in retail, catering and hotel service management onboard cruise ships – is planning to open a branch in Italy in order to work on Costa Crociere’s units.
The main actors in the negotiations did not provide details. However, additional information about the transaction emerged from the Italian Revenue Agency’s answer to the request submitted by Sea Chefs in order to benefit from the tax reliefs on social security contributions related to the crew members onboard Carnival’s Genoese subsidiary.
Although it did not specify the actors’ names, the Agency referred to “a shipping company operating through cruise ships flying the Italian flag” whose “vessels are registered in the International Register” – Costa Crociere is the only company which meets these requirements – and “one of the main global companies providing hotel and high-level restaurant services onboard cruise ships”, managing “over 50 ocean vessels and river cruise ships with 15,000 employees onboard and 180 employees in various countries”. Such figures and characteristics correspond to Sea Chefs.
From the answer of the Agency, it emerges that Costa is not dealing directly with Sea Chefs, rather with a third party to which “it will grant the right to carry out retail activities for the passengers of its cruise ships”. In turn, the third party “will use the services of the claimant”, i.e. Sea Chefs, which will “hire the crew members of C.’s ships. As concerns its employees, the claimant will apply the (Italian, ed.) collective bargaining agreement for cruise ship seafarers and it will acquire the status of withholding agent”.
Given the above, two questions arise: the first one concerns the outcome of the transaction because the Revenue Agency explained that the fact that Sea Chefs has a contractual relationship with a third party that, in turn, entered into an agreement with Costa Crociere prevents it, in its capacity as subcontractor, to obtain the International Register benefits in terms of employees’ social security contributions. In fact, only the shipowner’s direct supplier is entitled to them. Therefore, the transaction may not be successful, or its outcome may not comply with the above plan.
The second question concerns the agent. According to the Agency, the agreement between the latter and Costa has not been signed yet. However, the Genoese company already entered into an agreement related to similar services with the American giant Starboard, which is also the supplier of several Carnival trademarks, as well as of Royal Caribbean. This partnership is unlikely to be in question, but it is possible that, since Sea Chefs boasts several German customers within the cruise sector such as Hapag Lloyd Cruise, Mein Schiff, Phoenix Reisen, the transaction may concern only the Aida Cruises brand. However, Costa did not provide details and Sea Chefs CEO Michael Knauer did not specify the site chosen in Italy, nor the possible employment opportunities, declaring that his company “is not actively pursuing legal steps to incorporate a branch or legal entity in Italy, and sea chefs is not engaged in any discussions with Costa Crociere and/or Aida”.