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Marseille Fos set to build on 2017 growth

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View of the Marseilles port

In a sixth consecutive year of growth, container terminals at leading French port Marseille Fos handled a record 1.4 million teu in 2017.  The 10% increase on 2016 – double the European average – was one of the standout performances of a year that underlined the port’s wide-ranging growth strategy. 

Box throughput was boosted by a 10% volume increase at the Fos deepsea terminals and by three new services at Marseille.  Container tonnage was likewise up 10% on 13 million tonnes, driving the general cargo total to 20.4MT (+11%).

The port’s overall cargo volume was 8% higher across all main categories excluding liquid bulks, which dipped 5% to 46.5MT after crude imports fell 14% to 22.7MT – largely due to a loss of 2.7MT from the Total La Mede refinery being converted to biofuels.

The loss was balanced by the general cargo result and a 5% rise in dry bulks to 13.6MT, leaving total cargo throughput on a par with 2016 at almost 81MT.  With passenger numbers similarly stable on 2.7 million, the port authority said that 2017 had demonstrated a ‘winning strategy’ of diversification combined with wide-ranging infrastructure projects.  Turnover increased by 7.3% to €160 million and capital expenditure on infrastructure approached €50 million.  This included the development of 55 hectares of logistics park surfaces and completion of works enabling the reopening of a giant drydock for the repair and refit of latest-generation cruise and cargo vessels.  The 2018 capex budget has been set at €82m.

General cargo: 20.4MT (+11%)

As well as containers, general cargo included an 11% increase in ro-ro volumes – led by 202,000 trailers on Corsica and North Africa trades – and a 19% rise in conventional traffic to 2.7MT based on imports and exports of steel products.  In addition, a total of 198,800 import/export cars produced an 18% increase with 30,000 more vehicles than the previous year.  A further 11 hectares for new vehicles is being developed in Fos this year.

Pre- and post-forwarding capacity via rail and inland waterways was marked by the Marseille Fos-Medlink Ports network serving the Mediterranean-Rhone-Saone axis.  The partnership – the biggest port ensemble in France – handled a total of 103MT last year to strengthen the strategic positioning of Marseille Fos as the southern gateway to Europe.

River volumes slipped 5% to 79,000 teu but rail traffic jumped 15% to a record 140,000 teu, including a 26% increase via Fos.  The reach to northern destinations was extended by new offerings to Lille and higher frequency on existing routes such as Paris and Ludwigshafen.

From March this year, a new three times per week rail shuttle will link Marseille Fos to the Swiss terminal of Chavornay, near Lausanne.  The joint initiative with Le Havre and intermodal operator Naviland Cargo will connect rail shuttles from each port at the Dijon Gevrey facility in mid-France.

Liquid bulks: 46.5MT (-5%)

Although crude imports fell, refined products improved 8% for 13MT.  LPG added a point for 2.2MT, but lack of an upturn in demand left LNG 6% down on 5.1MT.  Liquid chemicals and foodstuffs rose 5% to 3.5MT due to strong imports.  Liquid bulk volumes are expected to remain stable in 2018.

Dry bulks: 13.6MT (+5%)

Throughput was dominated by 9.5MT (+8%) in raw materials for the Fos industrial zone’s steel industry.  Other ore and mineral bulks contributed around 4MT (+7%), reflecting diversification into products such as clinkers, coke, lime, cement and alumina.  Agro-bulks slumped 41% to 0.4MT, rallying only in the second-half cereals exports season.

A significant new trade starts this year when the Fos ore terminal will handle 1.5MT of aggregates destined for Monaco as infill for a €2 billion urban extension on land reclaimed from the sea.

Passenger throughput: 2.7 million (-1%)

Passenger carryings on Corsica and North Africa ferry services rose 7% to 1.2 million, which almost compensated for cruise numbers dropping 7% to 1.5 million.  Throughput at the leading French cruise port was affected by Croisieres de France ceasing operations and by the repositioning of some US vessels in Asia and northern Europe.  In contrast, highlights included the first call of MSC’s 5,700-passenger Meraviglia in June and a record month in October when the Marseille Provence Cruise Terminal welcomed 200,000 passengers.

Cruise activity is set to return to growth in 2018 with a scheduled 530 calls – 100 more than last year – and an expected throughput of close to 1.75 million passengers.  Based on current rankings, Marseille would then rise a place in the Mediterranean league table, taking fourth spot ahead of Venice – and staying on track for a targeted two million cruise passengers by 2020.


The mega-cruiseship market was the principal objective of recommissioning Marseille’s  Drydock No.10 – largest in the Mediterranean and third biggest in the world at 465 metres long and 85 metres wide.  The former VLCC tanker facility was mothballed in 2000, but reopened last October after extensive refurbishment and stemmed three cruise vessels by the end of the year.  Costa Cruises has a one-third stake in yard operator Chantier Naval de Marseille (CNdM), a subsidiary of Genoa-based San Georgio del Porto, which is also targeting the gas carrier, bulk shipping, container and offshore markets. The facility joined CNdM’s existing operation at drydocks 8 and 9 and helped increase shiprepair activity to 98 vessels drydocked (+8%) and 2,231 days of occupation (+10%).

Development projects

Unprecedented demand for space at the Fos Distriport and nearby Feuillane logistics parks was confirmed by the development of a further 55 hectares of surface area for new warehousing.  Agreements for warehouses of up to 70,000m2 were signed with various commercial property developers and logistics providers.

In 2018, development of logistics and industrial surfaces is scheduled to total 101 hectares.  This includes 12 hectares earmarked as the location of the largest Chinese-owned factory in France, following the signing of a letter of intent with Quechen Silicon Chemical, the world’s third biggest producer of silica for use in making ‘green’ vehicle tyres.

The 2017 investment total of €47.8 million included €15m on the maintenance of existing infrastructure.  New project expenditure included €14.6m to enlarge the Marseille harbour area’s Passe Nord access for cruise and ferry vessels, a €2.5m ferry terminal upgrade and the €2.3m installation of an 800-tonne capacity project cargo ro-ro ramp in Fos – the largest in France.

Key projects in the 2018 capex budget of €82m include the launch of works to connect the two Fos container terminals via a quay extension, and improvements to the Marseille and Fos railheads.

The port is also continuing a string of environmental initiatives, including further ‘cold ironing’ facilities for ferries, installation of 16,000m2 of solar panels in the Marseille harbour, reduced port dues for ‘green’ vessels under the Environmental Ship Index and membership of the LNG Focus Group – following the MoU signed last July – under which major world ports are working to promote LNG as a marine fuel.

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