“It took us by surprise. None of us could have imagined that the virus would hit the country so violently. Covid-19 has hit our sector with the force of a tsunami. We have found ourselves taking important decisions in the space of a few days, if not hours.”
Aldo Negri is the CEO of a small shipping company, Blu Navy. The company connects the Island of Elba to Piombino on a daily basis and also operates on the Sardinia-Corsica sea leg. “This year we celebrate ten years of activity. This is an important milestone for us unfortunately in one of the worst moments in Italian history.”
Celebrations postponed. Likewise, the inauguration of their flagship, the Acciarello has also been deferred. It was supposed to come into service over the last few months, to reinforce a fleet which so far consisted of one operational ferry, the Ichnusa. “The crisis has hit hard – admits Mr.Negri ; “to stem the spread of the Coronavirus, Sardinia’s and Corsica’s Regional Administrations have suspended maritime links. We have been forced to continue our Elba trade with the Ichnusa instead of transferring it to the service between Santa Teresa di Gallura and Bonifacio. Acciarello’s maiden voyage has therefore been postponed until things get better.”
In the space of one or two months, the company has had to deal with a drastic drop in bookings: “Last year we were getting 1,000 bookings a day, today we have less than ten. In short, it’s a heavy setback: “We have continued to guarantee territorial continuity services with Elba: we did so because we owe so much to the island as it was where we started the company, and because we believed it was necessary to prevent the few passengers entitled to travel on the route from being deprived of an essential service.”
During the winter, companies operating in the area ran a total of 34 daily sailings (17 outward and 17 return) between the ports of Elba and the port of Piombino. ” Today the number of services operating has been reduced by almost half. Blu Navy has three daily departures from Monday to Friday, round trip.”
As it was no longer able to rely on passenger traffic, Blu Navy has placed its bets on cargo traffic: “We handle 25 commercial vehicles a day, which spread over six sailings is not much. But this still allows us to provide an essential service.”
Clearly, cargo traffic alone is not enough to keep their business afloat: “We are in financial difficulty at the moment. Fortunately, we have been able to keep going and so far we have not had to resort to the Solimare fund”.
However, in order to cope with the economic situation, Blu Navy has had to cut its staff costs: “This year we have not taken on our seasonal workers yet, who are usually hired at the beginning of April. With our ground staff, a total of fifteen or so, we have resorted to a rotation system, laying off 3/4 workers a day.”
Instead, their crewmembers continue to work. There are 14 on board the Ichnusa and six on the Acciarello, which, although anchored in Portoferraio, still needs daily attention.
For Mr. Negri the idling flagship berthed in the Elban port symbolizes the crises: “The Acciarello has significant daily costs and not only for its personnel. There are also operating costs, without counting depreciation.”
Blu Navy’s CEO hopes that the summer season will start up as soon as possible, but he also knows that nothing will be the same as before: “Shipowners are suffering. We’re all suffering. The Conti Government is currently concentrating on an infinite number of problems – we are aware of this – but it should do something more for our sector.” A sector which is, indeed, in danger of going under.
“Many of us do not know if they will survive until the next summer season, we expect concrete measures from Palazzo Chigi to support the maritime economy. Let’s hope help arrives before it’s too late.”
Translation by Giles Foster