The Italian Navy is co-hosting what could be described as a secondhand ship show in Italy next month as it retires dozens of seasoned vessels and brings new ships into service.
Officials from 11 navies around the world are due to attend the event at the Navy's La Spezia base May 24-27 to scout for bargains among various classes of vessel, which Italy is hoping to make some much needed money by selling.
Also present at the event will be Italian companies offering their services for refits and upgrades to give the vessels a technological makeover.
The Seafuture & Maritime Technologies 2016 event has been running for five years, but this is the first time the Navy has stepped in as an official partner, according to the organizer.
"Up until now the Navy has negotiated the sale of its vessels on a one-to-one basis, so this is a new approach," said Laura Parducci, an official with the local chamber of commerce, which organizes the event. "People coming will be able to sign deals there and then."
The Navy's decision to put its ships in the shop window at La Spezia is due to the large number it is phasing out. After investing heavily in fleet renewal in the 1970s, a number of the vessels bought at the time are now due for retirement.
Speaking in parliament on April 20, Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said that 54 vessels are due out of service by 2025. In the meantime, Italian Navy chief Adm. Giuseppe De Giorgi has won approval for a €5.4 billion (US $6.1 billion) funding package, which is being spent on a massive, new shipbuilding program covering seven near-multimission vessels, a support ship, a landing helicopter dock and fast craft for special forces.
Among other more recent purchases are FREMM frigates, which are now entering service, as well as two Horizon frigates and a carrier, the Cavour.
Prospective buyers at La Spezia will be able to visit and go for a sail on a Maestrale-class frigate, a Lerici-class minesweeper or a Lupo-class frigate. One vessel from each class — which are being phased out — will be moored during the show at La Spezia, said Parducci.
Italy has already sold Minerva-class corvettes to the Bangladesh Coast Guard, and sold Lupo-class frigates to Peru a decade ago.
Parducci said that the navies of Singapore and Brazil were sending rear admirals to the show, while other navies sending officials included Georgia, Japan, Morocco, Peru, Senegal, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay and Nigeria.
"The idea is that visitors can meet firms like Fincantieri, which would host a vessel during an upgrade, as well as the small firms that could be involved in the work," a spokeswoman with the chamber of commerce said.
An Italian admiral is expected to speak about equipping older ships with today's emerging technologies. "Themes will include unmanned platforms and robotics," Parducci said.
Non-Italian firms will also be present, hoping to obtain work upgrading ships being purchased.
"We have French, Turkish and Canadian companies coming," Parducci said. "There has been contact with Iranian firms but we are still awaiting permission from the Italian Navy to send a formal invite."
As the La Spezia event nears, Fincantieri and Finmeccanica are stepping up work on the Navy's new vessels, with propulsion contracts handed out last month to General Electric and Rolls-Royce.
Italian Navy chief Adm. Giuseppe De Giorgi is shown attending a ceremony marking the departure of the Cavour aircraft carrier from the Civitavecchia harbour on Nov. 13, 2013.
Photo Credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images
But the program has also been dragged into a political scandal that has prompted the resignation of a government minister and seen De Giorgi placed under investigation for suspected influence peddling.
Italy's industry minister, Federica Guidi, resigned this month after magistrates in Potenza, southern Italy, said they suspected her partner of pressuring her to promote a law which favored his activities in the oil business.
The magistrates also placed De Giorgi under investigation on suspicion of helping Gemelli obtain a contract at a Navy port in Sicily. Prosecutors suspect the Navy chief wanted Gemelli, in return, to push his partner Guidi to ensure that funding of the new Navy ships was speedily approved.
Guidi's ministry was the provider of the €5.4 billion needed to kick-start the program after it was first launched in 2014. De Giorgi has denied any wrongdoing.
Originally, the funding was to be released over a number of years to pay back bank loans worth €3.829 billion obtained up front to build the vessels, as well as just less than €1.6 billion to cover the interest on the loans.
That changed when parliament decided the funds were available immediately and loans were unnecessary, meaning the €1.6 billion in interest was suddenly freed up to buy more ships.
Addressing parliament on April 20, Pinotti denied the naval deal was the fruit of corruption, noting that it has been scrutinized 15 times during its approval phase in the lower and upper house of parliament, and was essential given the number of ships going out of service.