54 EVENTFUL YEARS
Astillero Contessi’s 54-year history isn’t quite typical for an Argentinean shipyard. Since the late 1980s, recurrent economic turmoil, no lines of credit for shipbuilding and plummeting profitability for fishing businesses shut down practically every company in the industry.
por: Eduardo Campos Lima
But Contessi bet on a self-financing model and made it through the worst times. Now the company hopes that a new funding plan for vessel owners will benefit the whole sector.
In January, the Argentinean government announced a line of credit designed for fishing companies that don’t have sufficient capital to renew their tonnage. The plan established a limit of ARS60 million (approx €1.35 million) for each company, with a term of payment of five years and subsidised rates.
‘This amount is not enough to finance larger vessels, but we feel that this plan is very positive for the industry, given that since the 1980s there has been no specific funding for the construction of fishing boats in Argentina,’ said Domingo Contessi, owner of the shipyard and son of founder, Federico Contessi.
‘We see it as a first step. We’ll keep supporting it and pressing for new measures,’ he said, commenting that, Argentinean shipyards now need legal incentives from the government – policies focused on boosting national industry and establishing fair conditions for competition with foreign builders.
‘A few big ship owners wish to keep important tariffs down, so they can continue to buy used tonnage from other countries. We’ve been facing unfair competition for decades and our fleet is in old because of that.’
Argentinean shipbuilding began to decline in the 1980s, with a major economic crisis. Until then, the country had one of the most active shipping industries in Latin America, including more than 30 large shipyards, building every type of vessel.
‘One of our problems was short-term vision. Nobody wanted to wait for the full process of ship construction. So the country started to import used vessels,’ he recalled.
Astillero Naval Federico Contessi was founded in 1965 by Federico Contessi, an Italian immigrant who came to Argentina in 1947. In Italy, he worked in a shipyard with his uncles. In Argentina, he began building wooden boats for local fishermen in Mar del Plata. In the 1970s, when he had already built 19 boats, he switched to building in steel, industrialising production processes with continued investments in machinery, manufacturing technology, and advanced projects.
‘With the crisis in the 1980s, we had to learn how to finance our own projects. Since we did not have much capital, many times we had to work on smaller vessels and avoid bigger ventures. But we kept funding boats for traditional fishermen and small companies,’ Domingo Contessi said. The shipyard struck instalment deals of up to 80 months, with the first payment of only 5% of the total value.
‘We also started to produce for stock. Even during serious economic crisis, we never quit building boats. In the end of the 1990s, for instance, we had five boats in inventory. When things got better, we were able to sell them.’
Although Astillero Contessi also works with vessel repair and maintenance, which sometimes accounts for up to 50% of their turnover, its main business is the construction of boats.
‘This is our vocation. So we are constantly investing in technology and better processes,’ Domingo Contessi said.
To date the yard has built 132 vessels, to 90 different designs, with developments taking place over the years.
‘Since 2005, we have been producing and selling more sophisticated vessels. Current trends include aluminum superstructures of using more fireproof materials for interiors. But Astillero Contessi is really innovative when it comes to projects, design, and fishing gears,’ he said.
He commented that the new funding plan announced by President Mauricio Macri will probably benefit fishermen who specialise in catching Argentinean hake, and the international commercial success of the Argentinean red shrimp – which amounted to USD1.2 billion in 2018 – is now providing companies in this sector to renew their trawlers – and Astillero Contessi is ready to build for both industry sectors.