Italy plans E500m sea research programme

THE Italian government is considering a proposal for a major new research and development project for the sea, covering a broad range of areas from maritime transport to sustainable fishing to coastal protection.

The project, which is dubbed Ritmare for Italian Research for the Sea, and whose lead promotors are classification society Rina and Italy’s National Research Council (CRN), calls for total investment of E500m ($787m) over a three year period starting in 2009.

If approved, the project will add to an already significant maritime research commitment and put Italy at the forefront of European efforts to develop a holistic policy approach to the use and protection of the seas.

According to Francesco Beltrame, a director at CRN and president of the scientific and technical committee at Italy’s research ministry, the project chimes perfectly with developing European research and innovation policy.

He noted that, in a visit to the European Commission in Brussels two weeks ago to discuss the project, an Italian research delegation found that “the commission was about to send out a policy communique” calling for a similarly co-ordinated approach, combining the full spectrum of maritime and marine research.

In terms of the shipping industry, the project document proposes research projects in the areas of safety and security, environmental sustainability, vessel comfort and efficiency, and the development of new materials, processes and components.

“The aim is to provide medium-term support for the competitive potential of the national maritime industry, reinforcing the excellence of shipping and nautical product as a symbol of ‘Made in Italy’.”

Other Ritmare aims will also resonate with developing European policy, including its proposal for much closer links with other European research facilities “dedicated to the study of the Mediterranean Sea.”

Specifically, it suggests the formation of an “environmental observation network” that would collect data as a basis for policy formation and action. The newly formed Union of the Mediterranean has the clean-up of the Mediterranean as a key target.

Prof Beltrane is optimistic that Rome will give the go-ahead for the new programme, and added that considerable funding could be available via structural and development funds for the south of Italy in particular.

He noted that if it does move forward, an eventual work plan would necessarily need to be co-ordinated with Brussels and Italy’s European partners.

Ritmare would add to a fast-growing Italian commitment to maritime research and development co-financed by public and private partners.

Last year, four significant projects were launched, with funds of up to E50m, to improve vessel environmental performance, enhance energy savings, reduce delivery times on newbuildings and develop ecologically friendly coatings for merchant vessels and yachts.

Bids will also close in September on another E400m worth of separate projects aimed at fostering sustainable mobility in surface transport, including maritime transport. The government is expected to provide around E180m for the programme and the private sector the remaining E220m.