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In a year marked by the implementation of French port reforms, cargo throughput at Marseilles Fos topped 88m tonnes in 2011 - a 3% increase on the previous year.

A mixed year for Marseilles

The port authority said cargo volumes were ‘positive’ in view of the persistent world economic crisis, noting that Dunkirk was the only other French port to grow traffic. It added that future activities would be strengthened by developments in Fos 2XL, where two new container terminals become fully operational in March, 2012.

The authority also stressed that the port reforms are already delivering competitive benefits since transfers of personnel and equipment to various terminal operators were completed in June. A total of 411 employees transferred including 160 to Fos and 41 to the Marseilles container terminal Med Europe (ex-Mourepiane). Marseilles Fos was the only French port to transfer maintenance specialists, who made up 80 of the total.

Subsequent performance figures from the Union Maritime et Fluviale – representing 300 companies across 22 professions at the port – show the breakdown rate of ship-to-shore gantries has fallen below 5% and productivity at Med Europe has risen from 14 to 23 moves per hour, eliminating truck waiting time. Meanwhile the doubling of quay length at Fos has slashed ship waiting time close to zero compared with two or three days a year ago.

As expected, annual turnover was reduced in scope by the port reform transfers. Preliminary estimates indicate a 12% fall to EUR154m. Investments totalled EUR41m. This included EUR17m on development support projects – such as quay and road renovation – and EUR15m on improvements to the port/city interface.

The port’s previous EUR180m investment in Fos 2XL – which will double container capacity – culminates with the full-scale opening of both terminals in March, after the authority hands over six gantries to join the two super post-Panamax cranes acquired by each operator. The Seayard Terminal is due to handle its first ship on February 15, while Terminal de Mediterranee – operated by Portsynergy/Eurofos – has been in progressive operation since the second half of last year.

Among other 2011 landmarks, the port authority launched a tender seeking an operator for a new combined transport terminal in Marseilles, which will link with Med Europe container services. A decision is expected in April.

General cargo at the port slipped just 1% to 15.6m tonnes. Container tonnage was stable at 9.3m tonnes with box volumes falling 1% to 944,674 teu – missing the symbolic million mark due to the slow European economy and national strike action over port and pension-age reforms.

Notably, however, a record 67,000 teu was carried on the inland waterways links with Fos to touch almost 10% of the terminal’s throughput for the first time.