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China-controlled company gets go-ahead to restructure strategic Italian port

Taranto seaport
Ferretti Group, controlled by the Chinese titan Weichai, can now proceed with its urban planning project to modify a yard in the Taranto seaport – which is crucial for present and future NATO operations

Green light for Chinese restructuring. The Taranto City Council has unanimously given the go-ahead to the urban planning variant to accommodate a project presented by Ferretti Group, an Italian boatmaker controlled by the Chinese public giant Weichai.

  • The group’s restructuring aims to make way for a new plant to build yacht hulls in the strategic Southern seaport of Taranto.
  • The ball is now in Rome, at the Higher Council for Public Works, to vet the other stages of the process.

The timeline (and Beijing’s shadow). Ferretti Group’s project was announced in 2019 by the Five Star Movement’s Mario Turco, then-undersecretary to then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. That year, his government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China, making Italy into the only G7 country to ever enter the Belt and Road Initiative.

  • In 2020, the party’s founder Beppe Grillo had (pseudonymously) called upon the government to turn the strategic seaports of Taranto and Gioia Tauro into two BRI terminals so as to make Italy a pivot of China’s New Silk Road.
  • In July 2021, Regional Governor Michele Emiliano and Ferretti’s CEO Alberto Galassi sealed the deal. In late 2021, the Committee for Economic Planning and Sustainable Development allocated public-sector resources to the investment.

By the numbers. Two hundred jobs and €204 million in investments are at stake for the reconversion of the former Belleli Yard in the port of Taranto. Public resources amount to roughly €137 million. On its part, Ferretti Group will invest around €62.6 million in material assets and research to build the structures and warehouses.

Taranto’s importance for NATO. The Southern seaport is a crucial hub for the Alliance’s activities – which, these days, mainly centre on supporting the Turkish population affected by the earthquakes. Also, NATO’s Multinational Maritime Command for the South will soon be activated in Taranto.

  • The Command will operate in synergy with the commands that already exist in the city, including the Italian Maritime Forces Command.
  • Admiral Enrico Credendino, the Navy’s Chief of Staff, explained in December that the new structure will be able to carry out the Alliance’s NATO’s three core tasks – deterrence and defence, crisis prevention and management, and cooperative security – and represents “a living testimony of NATO’s attention to the Mediterranean.”

Watch out for Bari, too. Edoardo Rixi, Deputy Minister of Transport, confirmed to Repubblica the intention to proceed with a reform of seaports, suggesting that the government could further reduce the number of Port System Authorities by launching a new round of mergers.

  • As recently reported by La Verità, Governor Emiliano is intent on creating one single PSA overseeing several seaports.
  • That would be led by Ugo Patroni Griffi, president of the Southern Adriatic Sea’s PSA, which opened the port of Bari to an experimental 5G project that also involved Chinese group Huawei (which in turn is blacklisted by the United States and other Western countries on charges of espionage on behalf of the Beijing government).

Image: Port of Taranto, Facebook

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