THE maritime world may be stepping gingerly into 2009, haunted by concerns that the recession will be long and deep, but at Grimaldi Naples the talk at least is of optimism for the year ahead.
Managing director Emanuele Grimaldi, fresh from tying up a second €200m ($273.5m) loan deal with the European Investment Bank, plans to announce several new Mediterranean services alongside a number of enhancements to existing offerings later this month.
He said that 2008 was a strong year for the company, with the deep-sea transatlantic services and ACL performing particularly well. And although he expected both Finnlines and newly acquired Minoan to do better in the future, he said both turned a profit, which was “an achievement in itself given how horrible 2008 was supposed to be”.
His said his optimism for the coming year came in part from his belief in the power of “good ideas and good organization” that embodied in the news services. He added that Finn lines and Grimaldi’s own deep-sea operation had redelivered several vessels recently, and that its entire fleet would be employed this year.
Tumbling fuel prices provided another reason to be cheerful. “In the ferry sector, fuel prices are a big driver of success for any company. And budgeting now for the first quarter of this year, you are looking at bunker prices 50% lower than in the first quarter of 2008. It is a lot easier to face a recession when bunker prices are low.”
Lower interest rates are also a plus, though Mr. Grimaldi said the impact would be far greater if the European Central Bank was less conservative, and risk-averse commercial banks were less reluctant to pass along what interest rate cuts did emerge.
Funds from the EIB loan will go towards the purchase of seven large multipurpose ro-ro vessels on order at Uljanik yard in Croatia. Grimaldi said recently that the first €30m tranche of the loan, via Unicredit Corporate Banking and “on good terms”, would go towards the recently delivered Grande Angola.
The remainder would be assigned to the other vessels in the €400m order, which are due to be delivered this year and next. Grimaldi said the highly flexible ships — with a capacity for 2,000 cars, 2,000 lane meters of rolling cargo and 800 teu, and equipped with two 40-tonne cranes — would go into operation between Northern Europe, West Africa and South America.