Interview with Vincenzo Franza, CEO of Caronte & Tourist group

Caronte & Tourist S.p.A. is a private company jointly owned by the Matacena and Franza families (the investment fund Basalt Infrastructure Partners has a minority stake) founded in 2003 from the merger of the two historic shipping companies, the Calabrian Caronte and the Sicilian Tourist Ferry Boat.

Both companies commenced their business in 1965, dealing with connections between the ports of Reggio Calabria and Messina, as an alternative to the State Railways.

Each year, more than 5,000,000 passengers travel with the ships of the Group, covering the maritime links to and from Sicily, from the high-speed ferry on the Strait of Messina, to the cabotage on the Salerno – Messina line through Cartour.

The Group also covers the connections with the small islands surrounding Sicily and Sardinia through NGI, Maddalena Lines and the shipping division of Siremar, a historic Sicilian maritime company acquired through the subsidiary Caronte & Tourist Isole Minori.

Mr. Matacena let’s start with some figures: what about results and trends for Caronte&Tourist in 2021?

2021 was a year of resistance. Despite the continued difficulties for the entire tourism sector and for the transport industry in general, our group recorded traffic levels slightly lower compared to pre-pandemic ones. Total revenues exceeded 210 million euro, with a significant margin recovery compared to 2020 and slightly lower compared to 2019. This allowed us to confirm our ambitious business plan providing for an investment of 150 million euro to modernize our fleet in the upcoming three-year period.

What are your forecasts for the 2022 full year?

It will be a transitional year. The rise in energy and fuel costs is placing a significant strain on the sector, while the compensations provided for by some of the most significant support measures are slow in coming. We aim at confirming the revenues achieved in 2021, net of the impacts of the well-known reduction of prices on the Strait of Messina, which should be offset by the compensations provided for by the Italian Government for 2020. However, margins will be under a significant strain due to energy price increases, which shall have an impact of over 10 million euro on our group.

When do you expect maritime traffic on the routes operated by Caronte to get back to pre-Covid levels?

The year 2020 was characterized by a significant reduction in traffic levels, especially for the activities of the Strait of Messina, which were only partly recovered in 2021, and which we hope to further recover in 2022. However, the continued restrictive measures, as well as the rise in energy costs, will probably cause use to get back to pre-pandemic levels only in 2023.

What about your orderbook for new ferries, upcoming investments, and new deliveries?

We just ordered two new ships: one dual-fuel, hybrid class-B unit to be delivered in the spring of 2023, which will be deployed in the Eolie islands; and one double-ender, dual fuel and hybrid unit – sister ship of ELIO – to be deployed in the Strait of Messina upon the opening of the new Tremestieri port, with delivery scheduled in the spring of 2024. We have also planned the transformation of our ropax CARTOUR DELTA, with a significant lengthening and the renovation of its passenger area to be completed by the end of 2022.

How many ships will Caronte & Tourist have in its fleet on the long term?

With the construction of new units and the purchase/charter of existing vessels, I believe that in the medium term our Group will manage almost forty units.

In which markets and routes are you planning to expand and diversify your activity?

We are focusing on territories and routes where we can “export” our know-how as ferry operators based on our sixty years’ experience and on our achievements in a niche sector of maritime transport. Elba island, Sardinian islands, Croatian islands, and Venetian Lagoon are all markets with these features, but others could also be added to them…

Which role the ro-ro cargo traffic will have in your Group’s growth strategy?

Commercial units have always been the backbone of our business. In fact, the lockdown period proved that goods transport by sea is essential for Italian economy and, of course, especially for the islands’ economy. Our new ships will continue to replace road vehicles, thus contributing to the protection of the environment.

Is LNG the new fuel on which Caronte is betting for the future?

Caronte & Tourist invested in LNG and hybrid units, it already installed scrubbers and it is interested in the development of ammonia/hydrogen systems.

Are you planning any take-over or merger with other companies in your sector?

Even if we did, we would never reveal it in an interview…

Nicola Capuzzo for Ferry Shipping News