Expansion strategy to continue in 2023

The new year begins with renewed hope for a better future. A year that will have its fair share of unforeseen events. Industrial action at the ports, Covid, wars, energy crisis -and now galloping inflation that is further undermining France’s trade balance… 

For the past three years, the pace of change has been accelerating and we will have to learn to live with it, to adapt. The cycles in the shipping business have become erratic, making any attempt at forecasting a complex, even risky task. Nevertheless, Marfret has been able to seize the opportunity brought by this profound change to implement a transformation, steering its teams towards digitalization and entering into fruitful alliances.

In this way, over the past three years, we have undertaken a thorough overhaul of the IT department, moving to software as a service (SaaS) -based platforms. SaaS represents a resilient and secure solution in a context of increased cyber-attacks. It also allows our teams to free themselves from many repetitive and time-consuming tasks to better provide you with tailored transport solutions with greater added value. An e-booking service will be made available to our clients during the first quarter of 2023, the additional booking option being accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The aim is to adapt to your imperatives while continuing to provide the plus points that constitute Marfret’s strength: teams who are receptive and who pride themselves in being close to their clients and providing a customized service.  Incidentally, I would like to pay tribute to our teams at all our branches who work hard to provide you with the best possible service.

In a shifting context, we have successfully managed to expand the Marfret network towards new horizons, with the opening of the MPV – MultiPurpose Vessel – service between North Europe, French Guiana and the West Indies and the IEX Italy-Egypt Express service.

We are also boosting our presence in the West Indies zone by increasing the available allocation to compensate for the departure of Maersk. Marfret remains faithful to this long-established destination despite the diminishing attractiveness of the West Indian market, for which the government has asked the shipping industry to make a considerable effort, without this having had any perceptible impact on the local consumers’ spending power.

Marseille, its birthplace, remains close to the company’s heart, despite the surprising stand taken by its mayor in the summer of 2022 stigmatizing the shipping industry by launching a petition condemning the pollution caused by ships. Yet French shipowners, most of whom are based in Marseille, are in the vanguard of those concerned about the effects of climate change, introducing technological innovations to address the challenge of energy transition long before any new regulations came into force. We applaud the International Maritime Organisation’s decision, taken at the 79th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee in December, 2022, to create an emission control area (ECA) for sulphur oxide and particulates, with effect from 1st May 2025 and covering the whole of the Mediterranean Sea.

In 2023, we shall continue to sail together on seas and oceans that, we hope, will be calmer. To our Ukrainian crew members, faced with the difficulties of a war, I extend my support and wishes for peace.

Colleagues, partners, clients, suppliers, I wish you, and your families, a very happy New Year.

Guillaume Vidil

MPV here to stay

Two years after its launch, Marfret’s Multipurpose Vessel (MPV) service continues to earn plaudits from shippers for its ro-ro offer able to cater for tailored shipments between mainland France, French Guiana and the West Indies.

In March 2020, Marfret braved the unknown, manufacturing stoppages and global supply chains in disarray to offer French Guianese and West Indian shippers a direct ro-ro service departing Le Havre and Antwerp with a round-trip time of 42 days.  Two years later, the Multipurpose Vessel service is up to cruising speed and is stable enough financially to ensure its continuity.

Just one year after its first rotations, Marfret innovated by fitting the Marfret Niolon with aluminium turbosails designed to reduce fuel consumption.

It was a major challenge, but one that had the support of clients keen to see greener merchant ships contribute to the decarboning of the overall logistics chain. “The crew were supportive regarding the new equipment that required additional supervision. Thanks to the sails, our speed has increased 10-15%,” says a proud Guillaume Vidil, Marfret’s managing director. And 10 to 15% means less time burning fuel during the crossing!

The line’s boldness and risk-taking to reduce its environmental footprint was rewarded with the French Shipowners’ Association’s Blue Charter Trophy in November 2022.  “This trophy, awarded by a jury comprising fellow shipowners, vindicates our approach. The MPV service is both an operational success and an accomplishment in terms of commitment to energy transition,” emphasises Vidil.

Innovating to reduce our energy footprint

The award has inspired Marfret to forge ahead in its energy transition strategy. “We intend replacing a prototype sail with a new version and are currently looking at new hybrid solutions in collaboration with yachtsman Xavier Macaire,” reveals Guillaume Vidil. What better, indeed, than to bring in new ideas formulated by mariners who are also top yachtsmen? A sponsor of Xavier Macaire, Marfret is in the process of shipping back the yachtsman ’s Class40, with which he took part in the 12th edition of the Route du Rhum last November, from Guadeloupe to France. This shared passion for the sea and the desire to help reduce the energy footprint could well lead to new partnerships being created between the merchant fleet and elite yachtspersons.  The Marfret Niolon carries all types of conventional cargo, from Xavier Macaire’s yacht to Gendarmerie launches (see photo), and plant and machinery, without transhipment.  

Three questions for Marfret managing director Guillaume Vidil

You took over at the head of Marfret mid-2019, a real baptism of fire given the events that followed. How have these last three years been?

I embarked on my maritime adventure beginning with strikes at the French ports at the end of 2019, then the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the simultaneous challenge of initiating energy transition at the company. A heavy swell will test a ship’s strength and resilience. Marfret not only managed to stay on heading with regard to its existing lines, it also opened up to new horizons with the launch of the Multipurpose Vessel conventional service connecting Le Havre and Antwerp with French Guiana and the West Indies, and then a new line between Egypt and Italy. These new services are proof that Marfret puts actions above words and is experimenting  incrementally both with new shipboard technologies and in the digital transformation of our booking system.

In 2022, and for the second consecutive year, you were awarded the Choiseul Prize, which rewards the 100 leading figures in the economic sphere in France, and you also became chairman of the CMAF (Marseille chapter of the French Shipowners’ Association).  What challenges lie ahead?

Marseille is a dynamic port is a dynamic port community with a common vision on leading issues, including air pollution. The holding of the second edition of the Blue Maritime Summit in October 2022 is proof of shipowners’ staunch commitment to pre-empt regulations in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To this end, we have signed three agreements with cruise operators, the Pôle Mer Méditerranée and Atmosud to set up a database, discuss issues openly and put in place more virtuous actions. The presence of the Secretary of State for Maritime Affairs Hervé Berville was important in a context in which the Mayor of Marseille, by launching an anti-ship petition, had set the residents against the port. It was an unprecedented situation and one that upset the shipping world. Another challenge is the promotion of the École Nationale Supérieure Maritime; incidentally, the CMAF has decided to allocate a budget dedicated to advancing seamens’ careers.     

Bernard and Raymond Vidil have taken a back seat regarding the company’s daily running. How have the tasks been redistributed?

The transition period seems to be finished now. It’s true that Bernard and Raymond Vidil have stepped back from the operational side, from the daily running, but they still occupy a major strategic role. By chairing and being members of Marfret’s supervisory board, they contribute their vision and set the heading.  By detaching themselves from their daily tasks, they now have time to take care of fleet transactions and present our viewpoints in dealings with various institutions and administrations.