At a meeting in Rome, economic development minister Paolo Romani and Fincantieri chief executive Giuseppe Bono signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at keeping the yard going and upgrading it in a bid to secure its future.
Under the terms of the agreement, Fincantieri undertook to secure continued work for the yard, initially through the construction of two patrol boats for the Coast Guard.
The €120m contract for those vessels will keep at least part of the yard working through 2013. At the same time, a Fincantieri spokesman conceded that these ships would not require detailed interior work - of a kind necessary in passenger ship construction, for instance – which would limit working hours on the project.
In addition, Fincantieri will invest in modernising the yard, which still builds and launches vessels on a slipway, and will commission Genoa-based classification society Rina to produce a feasbility study for construction of a long-discussed new dock.
For its part, the Campania regional government pledged to work to ensure that Castellammare di Stabia remained productive, in part through training and retraining of workers employed both by Fincantieri and its suppliers.
Castellammare was the first of a number of Fincantieri yards to be hit by the shipbuilding demand crisis, and has been limping along on a severely restricted diet of work for several years. Indeed, it was one of two yards targeted for closure in a Fincantieri strategy plan released and then withdrawn earlier this year.
Then as now, the issue of where new work will come from remains open, with the shipping industry under pressure, Italy’s economic situation deteriorating fast and the political system in turmoil. Similarly, whatever the results of Rina’s feasibility study on a new dock, Fincantieri and the government must still confront the reality of a demand slump and a government funding shortage.
The same applies to the Sestri Ponente yard in Genoa, where the tender process for a €70m yard expansion is due to get underway shortly with a view to commencing work on the three-year project next summer.
The Sestri expansion must still hurdle some obstacles. It depends on a commencement of work on the terzo valico rail pass through the mountains behind Genoa, which will provide the fill material for the seaward expansion of Sestri.
The government must also respond to questions from the European Union, which is concerned that its funding for the expansion might count as an illegal aid to shipbuilding. Italy argues that the monies are part of a wider package targeted not at shipbuilding but at port infrastructure improvements.
Sestri will be empty of work as of March when a second Oceania newbuild is delivered, and there is serious concern for its future prospects as a shipyard even if the expansion plan goes ahead.