Case Studies: Muelle Costa Terminal, The Port of Barcelona, Spain

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Project Overview
Figure 1: Grimaldi terminal at the Port of Barcelona
Terminal Muelle Costa at the port of Barcelona, Spain
Project Type: Both
Contract Duration: 15 (+7.5) years
Budget: EUR 20 M
Overall budget to date: EUR 22 M
Project Time Line
Conception: 2009
Tender: February 2011 (previous tenders in 2009 and 2010 declared void)
Contract Award: August 2011
Terminal opened to public: July 2013


Barcelona, being a coastal city, provides some advantages in the commerce that turns it into one of the most competitive European short sea shipping (SSS) ports, mainly due to European geography. Generally speaking, the Port of Barcelona seems to be very competitive in the establishment of SSS corridors across the Mediterranean.

The reorganization of Barcelona Port in 2007 freed-up the Muelle Costa for new uses. In accordance with its strategic plan, Barcelona Port Authority (BPA) decided to enlarge the pier to facilitate berthing and gain an additional 4.5 hectares of land with the aim of dedicating the pier to Short Sea Shipping (SSS) and passenger and Ro-Ro cargo. The decision was based on three factors: proximity of the pier to the city centre, which is especially convenient for passengers; direct access to the urban area, which allows easy and separated transportation of SSS cargo; and the characteristics of the waterfront, adequate for fast cargo rotation.

Grimaldi Lines’ new ferry terminal has operated since July 2013. The objective is to increase the Short Sea Shipping Services from Barcelona along the Mediterranean coast. The new terminal is capable of handling 1,800 boarding and 1,800 disembarking passengers simultaneously, and has a total surface area of 63,000 square meters. The project has required an investment of EUR 20 M.

One of the main advantages of developing this type of terminal lies in the value of specialised units for SSS activities in ports. However, there is a risk of abuse of market power by companies that develop and own the terminals and serve the SSS corridors at the same time. The know-how and advantages of Grimaldi in the Mediterranean – with corridors between Spain and Italy – place it in a leading market position.

The use for the Muelle Costa pier matches not only BPA but also EU plans to encourage SSS transport and Motorways of the Sea (MoS). Barcelona is the leader among Spanish ports in terms of its SSS offer, with SSS traffic increasing by over 12% between 2009 and 2012. Prior to the Muelle Costa concession the port offered connections with Italy (Geneva, Civitavecchia, Livorno and Porto Torres-Cerdeña) and the north of Africa (Tangier, Algeria and Tunisia).

Destination Shipping company Frequency Type of traffic
Civitavecchia Grimaldi & Trasmediterranea Daily RO-PAX
Génova Grandi Navi & Trasmediterranea 4 times/week RO-PAX
Livorno Grimaldi & Flota Suardiaz 3 times/week RO-PAX
Livorno Demline Monthly RO-RO

Figure 2: Short Sea Shipping routes from Barcelona to Italy (January 2014)
Source: Authors, from

In addition to the services shown in Figure 2, Grimaldi Group also serves routes between Valencia and Italy.

After two consecutive failed tenders in 2009 and 2010, BPA decided to initiate a negotiated procedure with the only two participants in the later tender, Balearia, and Atlantica di Navigazione – a Grimaldi Group subsidiary set up in the mid-1990s. Grimaldi was awarded the PPP contract in 2011, after a tender procedure for a 15 year BOT scheme renewable for a further seven and a half years. The terminal will provide for the storage of freight, plus passenger handling facilities (a passenger terminal, and a footbridge for access of passengers from the terminal directly to the ships). The design work was awarded by BPA to IDOM.

The Contracting Authority (Public Party)

Barcelona Port Authority is governed by Law 31/2007, which gives the Spanish port system the necessary tools to improve its competitive position in an open and globalized market by establishing a system of self-managed Port Authorities operating on the basis of normal business criteria. Within this framework, the management of general-interest ports follows the so-called "landlord" model, in which the port authority is not limited to providing port land and infrastructure and regulating the use of lands in the public domain, but also leads port activity.

After the two failed tenders in 2009 and 2010, the Port Authority board reached agreement on new terms and conditions in order to initiate a new negotiated process. Puertos del Estado, the national agency on charge of the Spanish port system, had already approved a set of general terms and condition for contracting procedures through the Ministerial Decree FOM/4003/2008.

The Concessionaire (Private Party)

The concession was awarded to a subsidiary company of the Grimaldi Group, Atlantica di Navigazione.

Grimaldi Group - wholly owned by the Grimaldi family- is an Italian company established in 1947 as a fully integrated multinational logistics group specialising in the maritime transport of cars, RoRo cargo, containers and passengers. From 2000 to 2013 the fleet owned directly or through subsidiaries has nearly tripled in size from 36 to more than 100 vessels.

Since 2001 the Group has completed a number of strategic acquisitions and taken shareholdings in major shipping companies with the aim of strengthening its leading position in the RoRo business while building an extensive network of Motorways of the Sea around Europe, both in the Mediterranean and in the Baltic Sea, in line with the EU's efforts to remove freight from congested road networks. The Group's shipboard and shore staff currently total more than 10,000. Every week, Grimaldi Group ships make more than 110 port calls in the Mediterranean and Baltic regions as well as in Northern Europe, West Africa, and North and South America.

Atlantica di Navigazione was set up in the mid-1990s. Since then it has been a driving force behind the Motorways of the Sea and Short Sea Shipping in the Mediterranean area, deploying a fleet of RoRo and RoPax ships operating on Italian cabotage routes and international routes linking Italy, Greece, Spain, Tunisia, Malta, Libya, Montenegro and Morocco.


The project is to be used by shipping lines, road haulage companies, port-related logistics services and import/export firms. Other stakeholders are Barcelona Port Authority, consumers, employees, and residents.

Key Purpose for PPP Model Selection

The private sector has been progressively involved in the provision of port services in Spain, and is becoming the core for the delivery of the proper infrastructure.

Along with the principles established by Law 48/2003 - validated by Law 31/2007 on Procedures for Contracts in the Water, Energy, Transportation and Postal Services Sectors - Spanish port legislation encourages public-private collaboration on port activities in order to promote competitiveness.

However the main purpose of the Muelle Costa project was to consolidate Barcelona’s position as a major hub for SSS routes and activities. Although financial support was required even after the disbursement made by BPA to rehabilitate the pier, service needs, the accommodation and stimulation of traffic growth, and port development strategy were the main reasons for undertaking this project.

Project Timing

The project was conceived in 2009 but it was not until 2011 that a final third tender was successful and the concession was awarded to Atlantica di Navigazione.

The project was developed during Spain’s recent economic crisis. Since the beginning of operations in 2013 there has been a remarkable rise in the port’s SSS activity, and especially in the motorways of the sea context, as shown in Figure 3.

Motorways of the Sea (MoS) 2012 2013  % 13-12
Tonnes 3,010,925 3,312,400 10.0%
Intermodal transport units 91,822 100,716 9.7%
Automobile units 53,288 63,559 19.3%

Figure 3: Motorways of the Sea cargo growth
Source: Barcelona Port Authority (June 2014)

Project Locality and Market Geography

In 2013 around 13.5% of containers and 12.6% of maritime passengers using Spanish ports went through Catalonian ports, principally Barcelona.

Procurement & Contractual Structure


After the failed tenders in 2009 and 2010, BPA decided to initiate a negotiated procedure inviting Balearia and Atlantica di Navigazione. The concession was intended for the construction and exploitation of an SSS terminal for a 15 years period, extendible to a total of 22.5 years. The BOT scheme has an area of 60,000 square meters and requires an investment of EUR 20M.

Central government was involved in the tendering process through the BPA committee set up for the project.

After the announcement of the negotiated process, Balearia and Atlantica di Navigazione decided to join together and presented a 50/50 offer but, after disagreements, the joint venture was dissolved and both companies presented separated offers. In August 2011 the concession was finally awarded to the Grimaldi Group.

The tender documents made a distinction between the economic offer and the technical offer, with weights of a 60% and 40% respectively.

The offer from Atlantica di Navigazione included a EUR 4.2M annual fee for the concession and an investment of EUR 12.77M in the terminal. Balearia offered an annual fee of EUR 4.5M, but a much lower investment of EUR 5.97M.

Although the minimum traffic requirement is not public knowledge, the Balearia offer was based on the traffic shown in Figure 4, which equals or exceeds the minimum requirement.

While Grimaldi Group could ensure it met the minimum traffic requirement from its own services, Balearia had to sign a collaboration agreement with third parties.

Forecast traffic (first year of operation)
PAX 361.157
Vehicles 104.865
Driverless trucks 10.700
Driving trucks 158.868
Fleet vehicles 20.998

Figure 4: Approximation to minimum traffic requirements
Source: Puertos y Navieras (June 2011)

When the concession was finally awarded to Grimaldi Group in August 2011, the arguments for rejecting the Baleria offer centred on an invalid guarantee and the lack of up-to-date annual accounts. The main concern about the Atlantica di Navigazione offer was the lack of mandatory documentation responding for the guarantee of free competence on port and transport services, such as the lack of guarantee that competing companies would be given equal access to the terminal.

Contract Structure

The concession contract is a BOT for 15 years extendible to 22.5 years.

The repayment method for the concession meets the provision of the Ministerial Decree FOM/4003/2008.

Mandatory guarantees had to be provided by the concessionaire for the construction works and the exploitation period. The construction guarantee was no less than 5% of the total works budget, to be provided in the month after contract signature. This guarantee will be terminated once the construction works are certified as complete. The operations guarantee could not be less than half of the annual concession fees, and no higher of the total sum.

The concessionaire also had to guarantee a minimum traffic volume, with economic penalties for non-compliance.

Risk Allocation

According to regulations on the matter and, more specifically, the general terms and conditions for contracts with Puertos del Estado and Port Authorities approved in 2008, the allocation of risk goes primarily to the private party Atlantica di Navigazione.

There are significant gaps concerning the nature and allocation of risk, such as no mention of force majeure setbacks, or regulatory modifications affecting the economic outcome of the project and/or the obligations that concessionaire may have to face. Risk allocation is depicted in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Risk allocation

According to regulations – mainly the general terms and conditions for contracts with Puertos del Estado and Port Authorities - the investor’s design must not alter the basic project presented by the Port Authority without its consent, and any variation must be approved by the Port Authority. There are no responsibility provisions for issues arising from design. Construction risk is strictly for the concessionaire, and the signing authority can penalise it for any delays to the works.

The general terms and conditions provide for the maintenance risk to be assumed by the private party even in cases of force majeure disruptions. In that situation, the concessionaire may terminate the concession or continue the work on its own expense with no alteration to the concession duration. In cases where the concessionaire is to blame for damage or improper conservation, the public authority may penalise the concessionaire.

The concessionaire is to assume responsibility for operations and any obligations arising from them. The exploitation guarantee will be revised every five years. Inactivity for more than 12 months is a cause for contract termination unless due to circumstances approved by the Port Authority.

The traffic risk is quite high because of the existence of a minimum traffic guarantee whose infringement may lead to economic sanctions.

Financial obligations are not directly addressed, but are part of the concessionaire’s obligations.

Environmental risk is not strictly addressed once the environmental rules are met.


There is a minimum traffic guarantee, but as the terminal has only been open since July 2013 it is still too early to say whether or not the terminal is achieving the desired throughput.


  • M. Cabrera, A. Suárez-Alemán, L. Trujillo, 2014, Muelle Costa Terminal, The Port of Barcelona, in A. Roumboutsos, S. Farrell and K. Verhoest, COST Action TU1001 – Public Private Partnerships in Transport: Trends & Theory: 2014 Discussion Series: Country Profiles & Case Studies, ISBN 978-88-6922-009-8