Port of the month

Port pro of the month: Zeno D'Agostino (IT)

29 May 2024

Our port pro of the month is Mr Zeno D’Agostino, Chair of the ESPO since 2022 and President of the Port System Authority of the Eastern Adriatic Sea (Trieste and Monfalcone) since 2015. Mr D’Agostino is ending his mandate as President of the Port on 1 June.  In what follows we would like to reflect on the significant and positive developments that took place in the Ports of Trieste and Monfalcone and look ahead to the future. In the interview below, discover some of the interesting topics addressed by our port professional of the month!

Zeno D'Agostino, Chair of the ESPO and President of the Port System Authority of the Easter Adriatic Sea (Trieste and Monfalcone). © Giuliano Koren.

Can you briefly tell us about the Port System Authority of the Eastern Adriatic Sea? What are its main characteristics and challenges?

The main characteristic of the Port System Authority is the fact that, as stated by the Italian law in 2016, we manage not just one port but a system of ports, as the name suggests. In our case, this system comprises the ports of Trieste and Monfalcone.

We have a very unique characteristic in the Italian and European scenarios: we started to invest heavily in the relations and the integration with the inland terminals in the surrounding region. We have 4 inland terminals (in Italian “Interporti”) and we own directly the shares of two of them (Interporto di Fernetti and Interporto di Cervignano). The main characteristics and challenges we face are related to this integration. We often say that Trieste is a Rail Port: we focus heavily on investing in railways and intermodality. We have a significant modal shift range, which is a defining characteristic of our operations.

What has been your long-term vision for the ports of Trieste and Monfalcone?

For us to remain competitive, our long-term vision involves moving beyond the traditional concept of a port. This means that we must invest not only in transport infrastructure, in which we are already heavily investing, but also adopt a broader perspective. Our slogan, "the future of the port is not the port," encapsulates this idea.

With respect to investments, we have seen that several international investments have been done in the Trieste port system from countries such as Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Turkey or Indonesia… Please, could you tell us more about this?

A key aspect of the port's development, particularly for the ports of Trieste and Monfalcone, is our ability to engage terminal operators and shipping companies in our investments. Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) are a natural way for us to develop the port.

Public funds play a significant role in the development and financing of railway infrastructure. However, there is also substantial involvement from investors worldwide, as Trieste is a central hub for the markets of Central and Eastern Europe. Additionally, our investments extend beyond transport and include logistics and industry.

European ports are increasingly investing in digital solutions to improve the efficiency of the port operations and logistic chains. In this respect, please could you tell us more about the initiative on quantum communication developed in 2022? 

Our efforts in the field of quantum communication began with leveraging Trieste's unique position. The city is not only home to a major port, but is also a global hub for the development of theoretical physics, hosting numerous international physics centres. We started collaborating with these centres and some of the world's leading professors and scientists in the field. Our goal is to apply quantum communication technologies to a range of applications, such as the blockchain systems used in our port operations. This means that in the future, we aim to provide our customers with 100% cybersecurity for their data.

© Giuliano Koren.

In the same lines, other important projects were carried out during your Presidency in the Port of Trieste. We are aware of the ‘Fresh Hub' project on the Trieste plateau, please could you explain us the importance of the project for the port? 

The Fresh Hub project is part of our vision for the future of our port, which focuses on the short sea connections with key countries around the Mediterranean Sea. For example, we have extensive connections with Turkey, and we plan to establish new Ro-Ro connections with Egypt and Morocco. This will result in a significant flow of fresh products through the port of Trieste. Consequently, we will need not only terminals but also specialised logistics for handling perishable goods: the project aims to enhance this infrastructure.

Additionally, there is another project for a new cool warehouse currently under construction, covering 25,000 square meters of cool logistics space.

How would you describe your long career as President of the Port System Authority of the Eastern Adriatic Sea? Is there anything you would have done differently? Or are there any projects or ideas you would have liked to develop?

I don’t think I would change anything. A project that I would like to see come to life is one focused on the development of vertical agriculture in the free zone, which aligns with our broader vision that "the future of the port is not the port," emphasising the diversification and expansion of port-related activities.

Additionally, I would like to see the completion of all the initiatives we are currently undertaking related to railways and intermodality.

In 2020, Forbes Italy gave you a recognition being on the list of the 100 best entrepreneurs and top managers in Italy. Please, could you tell us more about this achievement?

I want to emphasise that I am a public manager, and receiving this recognition was particularly significant. Among the 100 entrepreneurs and managers on the list, I was one of only two public managers, the other being the head of the Olympics committee in Italy, so it was a great honour and a pleasure for me to be included in this prestigious list.

Ports have been undergoing in a very complex and unstable context since 2021 with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as difficulties caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but also by the Houthi attacks and now by the approaching risk of an escalation of the Iran-Israel conflict. As ESPO Chair, what are the key challenges and opportunities for EU Ports in this tumultuous geo-economic and geo-political complex? How do you see the future role of a port in Europe? 

The future role of our ports is strongly linked to the industrial sector. As we have observed and experienced, in the coming years European ports will have a crucial role for in energy transition and energy production. The development and use   of new alternative fuels for ships is a key component of this transition, with a strong focus on sustainable energy solutions.

© Roberto Pastrovicchio.

There seems to be a growing common understanding that Europe’s “competitiveness” is at risk? What can be done to safeguard and strengthen Europe’s competitiveness, to keep ports competitive?

I believe that what we have accomplished in Trieste over the past few years will significantly enhance Europe's competitiveness. It is crucial that Europe, or Italy in our case, makes clear geopolitical decisions regarding ports. This clarity is essential for our progress.

In Italy, we have advocated for the establishment of an agency similar to Puertos del Estado in Spain, to provide strategic direction and guidelines for port operations. Such an agency would be vital for our Italian ports and for European development, though implementing it is challenging. Europe's strength lies in its diversity, with many nations and various approaches. Therefore, the idea of too much standardising or imposing a single development path or model from Brussels should be limited to geopolitical considerations, rather than extending to other areas.

Finally, to safeguard Europe’s competitiveness and that of its ports as engines of growth, European policy should avoid developing policies that disadvantages European ports visa vis their non-European neighbours.  

How did you experience the ESPO Conference in Paris? What were for you the main takeaways?

The ESPO conference in Paris was, as always, exciting and informative. Attending the conference provided valuable insights on better port management. The presentations and speakers in Paris were of the highest caliber. In particular, speakers who discussed future scenarios offered a comprehensive view of the European development landscape for ports, which was incredibly enlightening.

How did you get into the port business? How did your career path lead to this position?

I started from land logistics: I was not born near the sea, and my journey into the port business began when I arrived in Naples in 2003, twenty years ago. This was my first approach to the maritime economy, management, and business. My background is not rooted in the maritime industry, and I believe this has given me a competitive advantage: I had extensive knowledge of managing land logistics, and from there, I started studying the logistics and maritime sector.

Lastly, if you had to bring us to your favourite spot in the Ports of Trieste and Monfalcone, where would you take us?

We recently hosted our Open Day: visitors toured the port and saw all the terminals. While we showcased various activities, people were particularly fascinated by our railway infrastructure, and I’m very proud of it. I think this is the heart and engine of our ports’ development and future, and it is where I would take you if you were to visit Trieste and Monfalcone.

Zeno D'Agostino at the 2024 ESPO Conference in Paris.

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