The Port of Trieste from the sea to the quay. Cristiano Zavattin and the pilots of the Gulf

12.06.2020 – 11.00 – The role of Trieste and Friuli Venezia Giulia, with their sea, as the logistic hub of Central and Eastern Europe, whose development has materialized in particular in recent years under the leadership of Zeno D’Agostino and his team now led by Mario Sommariva while awaiting the outcome of the appeal by the Tar (Regional Administrative Court), has appeared uncertain for a moment, because of the recent ANAC (National Anti-Corruption Authority) ruling which, like a lightning bolt in the clear sky, hit Trieste, causing fears of slowdowns or even a setback after years of projects and investments. Never before has the importance of the port itself become more evident, meaning for the city, and more generally for the whole region, development both in economic and employment terms; two elements which, particularly at a time of economic crisis like the present one, certainly cannot fail. We discussed this topic with the Chief Pilot Cristiano Zavattin of the Guild of Pilots of the Gulf of Trieste.

What is your opinion on the recent ANAC ruling dismissing Zeno D’Agostino as President of the Port Authority?

“We are shocked, from the beginning this situation seemed surreal; far from wanting to get into the resolution, we are however distressed. After years finally the port of Trieste had started a process of development, and it was therefore a little like throwing away all the work we’ve done. We are struggling to metabolize it”.

The immediate response of the dockers and of the citizens and institutions have given an important signal regarding the importance of the port and the figure of D’Agostino for the city.

“Definitely. The protests and the solidarity of the docks themselves are the image of the work done by D’Agostino and his team: a positive and proactive work that has led over the years to excellent results.

I believe that his merit must be acknowledged: the intervention of control and guarantee bodies is fine, but it must take place promptly, not after five years; we are talking about the future of the port. Therefore, all our support and solidarity go to the president and to all the workers who have invested time and resources of every kind for its growth”.

Sea, for Trieste, means first development and work. And this is where the Gulf pilots operate; how would you describe their role to those who do not know it?

“It’s a question I’m often asked. We basically assist and coordinate the activity of the ship and the other technical-nautical services – i.e. mooring and tugboats – assisting the captain during the mooring and unmooring phase. Basically, we get on board on arrival, exchange information regarding the technical characteristics of the vessel with the captain, providing him in turn with all the necessary information. Our peculiarity is to know perfectly the characteristics of the port which, together with our knowledge deriving from the professional training we have, allows us to assist the ship’s captains when entering the port of call and then leaving“.

The pilot is in fact the one who first gets in contact with the ship and the arriving crew. How did you organize your work during the emergency phase brought by the Coronavirus?

“From the very beginning, we put in place the necessary security measures when we had to get in contact with external parties – suppliers, employees, administration – following the security protocols provided for at national level and, where possible, using telework, as for the so-called “handover” which we have taken over with the Internet and the Cloud and therefore with the possibility of arriving at the office already with all the necessary information. Then, on the one hand, we organised ourselves by separating the intervention teams so that they would never meet, to guarantee continuity of service even if one of the teams was ‘knocked out’; on the other hand, we followed all the hygiene and prevention instructions also through periodic sanitation“.

How did you manage the contact with the crews on board?

“The management of the contact with the ships and the crews was a bit more particular. Initially, we were afraid of being infected by the others, but, at a certain point, since Italy was unfortunately a great hotbed, we discovered that we were in fact primarily responsible for ensuring and preserving the health of incoming crews, as we had in fact become a potential source of contagion.
Therefore, we immediately set up the necessary protective equipment and all other possible measures to prevent any possibility of contagion.

Obviously, there was also close cooperation with the Maritime Authority and the maritime health offices themselves, with the control of the condition of the crews and the free health practice for ships entering the port. In general, however, there were no particular critical issues”.

Your service is considered an exemplary model at international level. Why?

“Because it is a model that proves to be successful at an organisational level, and we are also having proof of this at a European level. In fact, it is a public service at zero expense because we guarantee the service by supporting our environment and our means, therefore without any intervention by the state, but simultaneously there is direct and penetrating control by it. So, the ship pays for the all-inclusive service, there are no expenses borne by the public administration, but at the same time the latter controls us and therefore has the advantage of being able to check the safety of the ships’ landing place.

What does it take to become a Gulf pilot?

“Access is by public tender. The requirements are very high; however, you must first be an officer in the merchant or the military navy. Until ten years ago, you had to take a course at the technical nautical institute; Italy was in fact one of the few countries in the world where the merchant navy officer course did not exist at an academic level, basically there was a lack of dedicated universities offering it. The following training, besides being onerous for the officer, was therefore carried out through training centres abroad because the standard had to be international and it was therefore necessary to put oneself on a par with the officers of other states. Now there are nautical academies, which we hope will be able to cope with this training. Once you have finished your studies, you must have completed a certain number of months on board (72) and have reached the rank of at least first officer on deck. Let’s say that you reach an average age of 30-31 years”.

The President of Fedepiloti – (Italian Federation of Harbour Pilots), Francesco Bandiera, in an interview pointed out that over the years there have been some critical issues regarding the tender procedures. What is your opinion?

“The president saying this wanted, in my opinion, stimulate the general renewal of the harbour normative system, in this case the pilots, as far as we are concerned. Let us not forget that our code of navigation dates back to the last century, and I mean that there are regulations that are a hundred years old and even more. The process of reforming the existing norms is a very complex one, because it has to be carried out collectively between ministries. The system works, but it needs to be renewed, as for the public tenders.

For example?

“For example, by removing the age limit for participants in public tenders. We used to have the 35th birthday as a limit, and this allowed us to guarantee some elements, first of all the fact that it is not a job you learn in two days. Inevitably, what you learn when you are 30 years old is different when you do it at 50 years; it is also a question of optimizing the cost of the pilot, a young pilot has a large work window and allows you to amortize his training.
In my opinion, there is a lack of order at central level and it would be necessary to have a bit more streamlined bureaucracy, linked to the specific study of the problems of the sector”.

Despite the health emergency, the Port of Trieste has continued to work non- stop.

The port system, and in particular the ‘ship plus train’ system, were the only ones that actually worked. What also became clear was the efficiency of the ship system, which in fact did not stop even during the emergency“.

What do you think it is now necessary to focus on to continue its full development?

“Speaking about my field of competence, from the sea to the quay, Trieste is fortunate to be a port that, due to its natural characteristics, does not suffer from the disease of the century of many European ports, namely naval gigantism. Italian ports very often find themselves with extremely large ships, with exaggerated draughts, and have to struggle – as in the case of Genoa – with what are the available spaces.

Concerning the building standards of today Trieste still is compatible: it has a high seabed and this is the spearhead for every port. So now an adjustment of the draughts is necessary, something on which the System Authority, together with the Maritime Authority, is already working on, creating an exploratory work chain to fix the new draughts of the port. It is now necessary to ensure a significant traffic flow, on the standards of nowadays shipbuilding”.

In your opinion, what will be the port’s future?

“This should be the time in which the port of Trieste should take off because it has all the capacity and potential to stand out, so we need to somehow encourage this process. But I believe that this qualitative leap is not so much to do in my field, that is from the sea to the quayside; it is from the quayside onwards that something has to start”.

Author: Nicole Petrucci

Michael Guggenbichler translation