The Port of Catania, Between Present and Future
Interview with Francesco DI SARCINA, President of the Port System Authority of the Eastern Sicilian Sea

14 Giugno, 2024

First of all, I would like to thank Engineer Francesco Di Sarcina, President of the Port System Authority of the Eastern Sicily Sea, for his kindness in receiving me and accepting this interview for PORTUS magazine, on the occasion of PORTRAIT 47, dedicated to the city of Catania.

Francesco Di Sarcina is a Civil engineer and expert in port planning, urban and waterfront planning. Since 2004 worked in the port sector in various roles as an employee and manager of Port Authorities first and /Port System Authorities later. He was Secretary General of the Port Authority of Messina; Secretary General for two terms and Extraordinary Commissioner of the Port System Authority of the Eastern Ligurian Sea. He is currently President of the Port System Authority of the Eastern Sicily Sea. He has a deep knowledge of the management dynamics of Italian ports, including the rules of maritime transport economics, port traffic dynamics, freight logistics and intermodality. A professional career that makes him an essential and valuable interviewee for PORTUS readers.

Thank you, President, for taking part in this interview!

INTERVIEWER | Elena COCUZZA, Research fellow of Transport Planning, DICAr, University of Catania

INTERVIEWEE | Francesco DI SARCINA, President of the Port System Authority of the Eastern Sicilian Sea

What is the role of the Port of Catania in the national and international landscape?

The Port of Catania primarily focuses on the import and export of goods, with a significantly higher volume of imports compared to exports, mainly utilizing the RO-RO (roll-on/roll-off) method. In recent years, there have been considerable developments in the container sector. There is also a small share of bulk cargo and other types of loads, which, however, are not insignificant. The port also engages in shipbuilding and fishing activities. Additionally, the port has a commercial role, especially in the cruise sector, which is currently quite limited and needs to be reconsidered. Finally, the port has a tourist function, which is also evident through recreational and sports boating.

How has the new national port system, with the introduction of Port Systems and Port System Authorities, affected the management of a port like Catania?

The answer is very clear. From my perspective, port systems are beneficial, and I’ll explain why: Italian ports are generally small and, alone, they cannot achieve much. By uniting into a system, they can act as a single large port with multiple docks in a relatively confined geographical area. The positive value compared to the individual management of ports is obtained if, through the system, specializations are created, enhancing the unique characteristics of each port. If nothing different is done compared to before and each port is allowed to operate individually, no benefit is obtained. Therefore, what we are doing is reorganizing traffic to highlight the specific roles of each port, such as Augusta, Catania, Pozzallo, and now, Syracuse.

View of Augusta Bay. (Source: Port System Authority of the Eastern Sicilian Sea).

What is the strategic vision for promoting the sustainable development of the port: green ports – integration of ship-port-city?

We need to distinguish between two meanings of the term green: one concerns the integration between the port and the city, viewing the green port in a romantic sense; the other refers to the green port in terms of emissions. Starting with the latter, there are several strategies that need to be implemented immediately, regardless of new planning. One solution is certainly to intensify and implement Cold Ironing, along with other initiatives that help shipowners turn off the ship engines, thereby reducing or eliminating emissions in ports. On this topic, which is at the forefront and on which the Government has invested many resources, individual Port System Authorities have been tasked with carrying out various interventions, also within the framework of the PNRR (National Recovery and Resilience Plan). Our Port System Authority is contributing to these efforts. Personally, I have some reservations because I don’t see an immediate benefit from the current expenses, as both the ships and the energy sources are those of twenty or thirty years ago. In the end, we are merely transferring energy production elsewhere, but we are not providing any real benefit to the planet. Moreover, we are not sure that ships will use these new systems, as they are generally quite obsolete. Therefore, in my opinion, this is an issue that certainly needs to be addressed, although the results will only be seen in the medium and long term, not in the short term. There are other solutions that could be adopted, such as energy communities or the ability to self-produce the necessary energy through traditional sources like wind, solar, tidal, and others. We are carefully evaluating these initiatives to be able to self-produce the energy required by the port, obviously preferring green energy, to avoid simply shifting the source of pollution. The goal is to reduce the negative environmental impact of the port to zero.

If, on the other hand, we refer to the green vision in a romantic sense, that is, how a port can be perceived by the city, then green means making it more ecological. This implies that the Port of Catania should have significant, not marginal, areas where the city can enjoy the flavors and smells of the sea and the port, as has been recently done in Palermo. This involves creating quality architecture and careful planning, not just tearing down gates and letting people in as if they were herds. It’s about giving a reason to visit the port, facilitating access, and offering a beautiful and quality environment. These operations are not directly related to green energy, even though they can be supported by it, but they represent a more poetic “green” vision, related to the relationship between the port and the city.

The commercial dock serving the RO-RO traffic in the Port of Catania. (Source: Port System Authority of the Eastern Sicilian Sea).

What is the strategic approach to promote the sustainable development of the port, considering port planning tools?

Naturally, the strategic vision must be translated into a port planning plan, as it is the main tool at our disposal. This plan must be able to interpret modern needs. In the past, ports were simply places where ships docked and unloaded goods. Today, it is essential that commercial ports integrate with the urban environment; therefore, planning must ensure that urban and tourist development does not jeopardize commercial activities. The main problem concerns the interferences in the port-city integration areas (not in the purely operational areas): for example, fences must be replaced with open spaces where people can access and find quality, entertainment, venues, restaurants, and bars. Another important aspect is to avoid ports becoming barriers for certain neighborhoods, promoting the improvement of these aspects. Finally, another fundamental aspect concerns road connections: if private or public transport vehicles have to share the same road infrastructure used by vehicles for transporting goods in and out of the port, there could inevitably be, especially during certain hours, overlaps of flows that can create significant conflicts. The solution in these cases is often to create separate roads, separating traffic flows so that those entering or leaving the port follow a completely different path from that of residents and citizens, and these are the aspects we are focusing on at the moment.

The strategies adopted in the new planning aim to resolve interference between the city and the port of Catania, integrating port areas and urban environments, commercial and tourist activities. (Source: Port System Authority of the Eastern Sicilian Sea).

What is the port’s commitment to promoting the development of the city of Catania?

The goal is to foster mutual communication and understanding of the needs between the city and the port. We want to create an area that is no longer considered exclusively port-related, broad enough to allow citizens to feel involved and less overwhelmed by the predominant presence of commercial port activities. Often, citizens do not understand the importance of these port activities because they do not realize that the consumer goods they use daily, such as clothes, cell phones, watches, and more, come from ships that have docked at that port. The idea would be to try to imagine what life would be like without the port and its commercial activities, to better understand their importance.

HEAD IMAGE | View of the port and city of Catania with the Etna volcano in the background. (Source: Port System Authority of the Eastern Sicilian Sea).

Article reference for citation:

COCUZZA, Elena. “The Port of Catania, Between Present and Future. Interview with Francesco DI SARCINA, President of the Port System Authority of the Eastern Sicilian Sea”. PORTUS | Port-City Relationship and Urban Waterfront Redevelopment, 47 (June 2024). RETE Publisher, Venice. ISSN 2282-5789.

COCUZZA, Elena. “Il porto di Catania, tra presente e futuro. Intervista con Francesco DI SARCINA, Presidente dell’Autorità di Sistema Portuale del Mar di Sicilia Orientale”. PORTUS | Port-City Relationship and Urban Waterfront Redevelopment, 47 (June 2024). RETE Publisher, Venice. ISSN 2282-5789.

error: Content is protected !!