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Editor in chief: Angelo Scorza
28/05/18 11:19

The B.R.U.C.O project recovered for the Silk Road

Shipowner Bruno Musso reintroduced a renewed version of the project regarded as a “courageous and innovative solution for Northern Italian logistics, that could exchange the roles of Northern Europe and Genoa”

Large 20,000 TEUs vessels and the Silk Road can be either a great opportunity for Genoa or a risk of exclusion in the absence of an infrastructure and organizational upgrade.

This is the opinion of Bruno Musso, owner of the shipping company and logistics operator Grendi which, due to the renewed interest in the ancient Silk Way, reintroduced its B.R.U.C.O. (Bi-level Rail Underpass for Containers Operations) project.

The plan will be illustrated on May the 28th in Lugano, during a meeting entitled “Opportunities for Switzerland from the New Silk Road”, where some of the speakers will be Marco Borradori (Mayor of Lugano), Marina Bottinelli (Italian Chamber of Commerce for Switzerland), William Chui (Europe Hong Kong Trade Development Council), Jinny Yan (China Markets Strategy ICBC Standard Bank), Mario Tettamanti (Linktobeijing Consulting Partnership Enterprise), Stefano De Paoli (Invest Hong Kong), Marco Marazzi  (Easternational).

The chief Northern European ports, being Genoa's main competitors due to the increased size of ships, have two significant disadvantages.

As canal ports, they have unlimited logistics/industrial spaces (10,000 hectares compared to 250 in Genoa), but they have reduced water depths and they are subject to seaworthiness constraints: Hamburg can be reached through a 120 km dredged canal and the port of London, the first in the world at the beginning of the 20th century, was set aside due to the inadequate seaworthiness of the river Thames.

Besides, the routes from the East via Suez imply a 2,100 miles longer distance, equivalent to 5 days at sea, i.e. 25% of the total.

However, Genoa's natural advantages are not enough; so far, the focus was mainly on the increase in ship sizes, underestimating the 500% increase in traffic, which implies problems that are very difficult to solve.

Larger ships transport more traffic, but this phenomenon is amplified by the current technological leap as ports went from a load/unload capacity of 2,000 TEUs per day/ship, to the current 8,000 (or more) TEUs in Northern European ports. The objective is making it possible to handle the entire 20,000 TEUs load in 5 days in the 2 or 3 loading and unloading ports. The Shanghai-Genoa route requires 20 days of navigation and 5 days of port, amounting to 25 days.

If port handling remains, as it is in Italy, at 2,000 TEUS per day/ship, port timings will amount to 20 days, with a loss of 15 days, thus annulling Genoa's 5 days of geographical advantage and increasing sea freights.

As a matter of fact, to handle 8,000 TEUs per day/ship, thus ensuring 25 days per route, in order to provide a weekly service we need 7 ships, and 11 ships with a 40 days ship's cycle. In this case, port efficiency allows us to spare 4 vessels for a weekly line, and 12 vessels if the maritime service should become trice-weekly (in Northern Europe they are already planning daily departures).

If a quay handles 8,000 TEUs per day, during 250 business days it will handle 2 million TEUs per year, i.e. almost the entire traffic of the port of Genoa.

Indeed, for long distance traffics deploying large vessels, each sea line loading 6,500 TEUs and unloading as much TEUs, providing a thrice-weekly service, needs to handle 2 million TEUs per year.

This implies a radical change, causing maritime carriers to join forces in only 3 groups (2M, The Alliance, Ocean Alliance), representing 90% of the world's traffic.

Our port infrastructures are inadequate to allow for a similar change. A quay handling 2 million TEUs requires 150 hectares while, besides traditional infrastructures, the port must have at least 3 or 4 quays for large vessels, with a capacity of 8-10 million TEUs per year. Therefore, 500 hectares of port space and 3,000 hectares of logistics spaces are needed, as well as 800 trains per day or 30,000 trailers.

Although it is the largest and most efficient Italian port, Genoa is far from these figures: in 2016 its first terminal operator handled 1.6 million TEUs using 4 quays, i.e. 400,000 TEUs per quay and less than 2,000 TEUs per day/quay. The port can count on 250 hectares, it does not have logistics spaces and it is served by 30 trains and 5,000 trailers per day.

According to Alphaliner's estimates, this will imply a 500 dollars freight increase for each container, thus nullifying competitiveness and making it impossible to serve Switzerland and Southern Germany.

However, the problem can be solved as the Po Valley is the only Mediterranean region with a 8.5 million TEUs traffic, which are sufficient to supply a large final destination port, although it is currently using 12 ports: 4 in the High Tyrrhenian Sea (5 million), 4 in the High Adriatic sea (1.5 million) and 4 in Northern Europe (2 million).

As a matter of fact, almost 25% of traffic is served by Northern Europe, despite the fact that this implies a 1,000 Km or a 2,100 nautical miles longer trip.

The only solution is connecting the Tyrrhenian water depths with the Po Valley: the project B.R.U.C.O., devised by Siti (Compagnia di S. Paolo and Politecnico of Turin) with some Genoese entrepreneurs, aims at this objective, inspired by Northern European ports' logic and technology.

The project provides for the enlargement of the existing breakwater in Pra-Voltri, with a 20 meters water depth and a 1,600 meters length, thus being able to host 3 or 4 large ships; and for the use of electric AGV which, being rail-guided, connect ships to the dry port in Basaluzzo (Novi Ligure) through a 38 km tunnel, providing 500 hectares of port space, besides the existing 3,000 logistics hectares nearby.

The 52 km reduction to reach the dry port will allow for a cost reduction of at least 50 dollars per container, which could be used to finance the project.

In the Genoa-Milan-Turin triangle, the B.R.U.C.O. project can give rise to a Southern European logistics centre ensuring a significant employment development, as well as a direct connection between Northern Italy and the rest of the world.

In the 20th century the Italian industry became competitive thanks to the iron and steel industry of Genoa, which provided cheaper steel compared to Germany, allowing Italy to become the world's fifth industrial power, and one of the greatest European steel producers.

In the current century, if it remains at the periphery of Northern European logistics, Italy is doomed to exclusion: the B.R.U.C.O. Project – Bruno Musso concluded – can reverse the situation turning Italy into one of the most important European logistics hubs.