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Italy: Transformin its Maritin

FINCANTIERI ... ... Closer focus on niche markets Italy's contribution to European shipbuilding activity tends to be understated, partly because of historic rivalries and often outmoded perceptions within Europe itself. But the dynamism of the industry in Italy cannot be disputed, mirrored in the far-reaching restructure of the state-owned sector and its forceful assertion in growth areas of the international market. On the equipment manufacturing side, Italy's share of the business has contracted in the past 10 years. Yet, during what has been an exceedingly difficult period for European shipbuilders as a whole, Italy has retained traditional craft and technology skills, as well as outfitting strengths.

A characteristic flair for interior design — from which Italy's renaissance in passenger ship construction and refitting has benefited complements the nation's technical and engineering knowhow, which is now supported by microprocessor-based computational and analytical tools.

While state-owned Fincantieri has enjoyed a remarkable financial turnaround in recent years, and now has hard-earned prominence in the cruise ship sector with an unmatched 40-plus percent market share in terms of gross tonnage, Chairman and CEO Corrado Antonini said there is no room for complacency.

An evolving market situation poses new challenges for the future, and even in the niche area of large, luxury passenger ship construction, the competitive pressures are intensifying. Quality, delivery and contractual performance are the guiding principles in a market where customer expectations have risen steadily.

Central to long-term success in the market, said Dr. Antonini, are project management skills, which have been continuously honed at the Monfalcone and Venice- Marghera yards since the group returned to the large passenger ship field in the mid-1980s. Fincantieri has secured contracts since that time for a total of 21 cruise ships, to an aggregate value of more than Lire 11,000 billion. With 10 capital vessels delivered in the last seven years, the orderbook for the remaining 11 newbuildings is worth more than Lire 6,500 billion. The new era was signaled by the seminal 70,000-gt sisters Crown Princess and Regal Princess, originally ordered by Sitmar and delivered to P&O Princess Cruises in 1990/91. The float-out in May of the 85,000-gt Disney Magic marked an important juncture for the shipbuilder, given the enormous technical and project management demands of the two-ship Disney contract, and the value-intensity and strategic, commercial significance of the project to the cruise line.

While success has been enjoyed, Dr. Antonini warned that the restructuring process has to continue, to ensure that the group is best equipped to cope with the market situation. Changes already effected include a substantial reduction in the payroll, the sale of most of the repair yards to the private sector and the adaptation of the naval yards to facilitate a large-scale entry into the fast ferry market.

Fincantieri has strived to maintain a diversified business approach whereby steel-intensiveships such as Aframax and Suezmax crude carriers and Panamax and larger bulkers have complemented production of ship types with a higher capital concentration. However, Corrado Antonini believes that the company will have to become more selective in its product range, and devote itself to a greater extent to niche markets.

Long an advocate of regional short sea shipping, he believes that Europe can offer expanding opportunities for RoRo ferries and other efficient forms of sea transportation as part of a modal shift of freight from the road system to coastal routes.

Fincantieri continues to target new opportunities in the cryogenic tanker sector, where it maintains an actual production presence, as currently expressed in the construction of a 65,000-cu-m LNG carrier for SNAM.

The recent delivery, in quick succession, of monohull fast ferries SuperSeaCat One, Pegasus Two and SuperSeaCat Two, highlights the group's level of commitment to the fast ferry sector. Forced to deal with reduced Italian defense spending, contractual success in the commercial field has meant that at least 50 percent of the activity of Fincantieri's naval ship division is accounted for by highspeed ferry design and construction.

Another 20-25 percent of the division's business is generated by the mechanical products division, such that the actual warship building operation is down to less than 25 percent of activity.

The current program of MDVseries monohull vessels, employing both steel and aluminum alloy

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