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Port of Marseilles seeks Union Naval Marseille replacement

The port of Marseilles supervisory board is to start looking for a new shiprepairer to take over operation of the port’s number eight and nine drydocks from Union Naval Marseille, which has been put into liquidation. The board, which held an emergency meeting yesterday, is to make no attempt to retain UNM, a subsidiary of Spain’s Boluda group, at the port, following last week’s liquidation ruling from the Marseilles court of commerce. The company’s 140-strong workforce have indicated that they could appeal against the ruling but have yet to confirm that they will do so. However, no mention was made of this possibility yesterday. The port rejected a call from French Communist Party leader Marie-George Buffet to set up a consortium involving the port, local authorities and the French state to run the port’s shiprepair business while a new operator was found. It also rejected calls from UNM employees for the organisation of a round table meeting involving all interested parties to discuss the future of the port’s shiprepair business. It said rather that the port’s drydocks would resume functioning as they did prior to UNM’s arrival in September 2006, with local shiprepair companies carrying out repairs under the direct supervision of shipowners. The supervisory board also reaffirmed its intention to preserve the existence of cargo activity, as well as shiprepair, at the port’s eastern docks. Port workers’ unions have expressed fears that the port intends to transfer Mediterranean container activity in the eastern docks to Fos, where mainline container activity is already concentrated. This would leave the city centre eastern docks as an area for “shop window” activities like cruise and ferry shipping but would transfer supposedly less sightly cargo-handling and other industrial-type activities to Fos. Meanwhile, the port is continuing to struggle to apply the French government’s national port reform, which provides for the transfer of port authority terminal activities to specialist operating companies. The CGT union confederation, which represents port authority workers at Marseilles, has been staging industrial action at the eastern docks for the last month in an attempt to prevent the transfers being carried out. It claims that the transfers have been overtaken by the international economic downturn and are no longer justified. It has offered to call off its industrial action in return for negotiations but the port authority is pressing ahead with the elaboration of the strategic plan which will set out its detailed proposals for application of the reform at the port of Marseilles. The port supervisory board is due to approve the strategic plan on April 3.

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