Shipments resume after French dockworker strike ends

The strike that crippled the ports of Fos and Lavéra since Mar. 14 ended when 62 tankers and LPG and chemical carriers waiting outside the harbors began unloading operations Mar. 31.

Doris Leblond
OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, Apr. 2 -- The strike that crippled the ports of Fos and Lavéra since Mar. 14 ended when 62 tankers and LPG and chemical carriers waiting outside the harbors began unloading operations Mar. 31.

The immediate deliveries have enabled Esso to return to almost-normal production at its Fos-sur-Mer refinery and Total at its La Mède and Feyzin refineries, the refiners told OGJ Apr. 2. They had slowed production last week by one third and would have gradually been forced to shut down had the strike continued.

The oil companies trade group Union Française des Industries Pétrolières (UFIP) believed it would take at least 2 weeks for business to return to normal. It is engaged in working out the full cost of the strike to industry, so far estimated at €25 million.

The 18-day strike had seemed deadlocked by Gaz de France's refusal to allow CGT port agents to handle branching and unbranching of the LNG carriers due to dock at its Fos-Cavaou LNG terminal when it comes on stream at yearend.

Pressure from the Prime Minister's office forced the company to accept five full-time CGT agents to be involved in what it always insisted was a highly technical and sensitive procedure to be handled by its own personnel under a single command.

Details of how the utility will deal with employing CGT agents have not been worked out, and observers note it is not clear whether they will be actively be involved in the operations.

CGT has claimed a victory in its efforts to prevent what it sees as the increasing privatization of the Marseille ports. But the GDF Energy-Chemicals CFDT trade union federation denounced an agreement that would weaken GDF.

Some observers fear CGT will take advantage of this initial agreement and try to enter GDF's Montoir-de-Bretagne LNG terminal, which is being expanded, while more-bearish observers wonder if the union might try to penetrate all LNG terminals to be opened in France.

For their part, industry leaders in the Fos-Lavéra region fear that by giving way to CGT under pressure of the forthcoming presidential elections in France, the government has given more clout to the powerful trade union, thereby discouraging investors in the area and further harming the image of the Port of Marseille, which ranks third as a global hydrocarbon port.

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