Gioia Tauro Harbour is located on Italy's Tyrrhenian Sea on the toe of the country's "boot" in Calabria. Gioia Tauro Harbour is just 24 nautical miles (42 kilometers or 26 miles by air) northeast of the Port of Messina in Sicily. Gioia Tauro Harbour is also 148 nautical miles (266 kilometers or 165 miles by air) south-southeast of the Port of Salerno, just south of Naples.
Located centrally in the Mediterranean, Gioia Tauro Harbour is on one of the world's busiest shipping routes connecting the Suez Canal to Gibraltar and connecting East Asia to Northern Europe and the Americas. Gioia Tauro Harbour is a deep-water port that can accommodate the largest container ships and is ideally located for transshipment activity. Soon after it began commercial operations, Gioia Tauro Harbour was the Mediterranean's primary transshipment hub.
In the early 1970s, the Italian government decided to build a big steel plant in Gioia Tauro Harbour with the hope of bringing jobs and income to the city after a period of violence in the province. To support the plant, a new artificial port would be constructed near groves of olive, orange, and lemon trees. To construct the port, 200 families were relocated and the village of Eranova was destroyed.
The Government's Cassa del Mezzogiorno invested large amounts is digging the seabed, building the artificial channel, and constructing quay walls. Unfortunately, a crisis in the iron and steel industry led to abandonment of plans to construct the plant. The port at Gioia Tauro Harbour stood unused. The Government considered several different uses for the new port facility, including cultivating oysters or production of olive oil and orange products.
The Calabria region, covering the long narrow peninsula at Italy's southeast, is mostly mountainous and hilly. In 2011, about two million people lived in Calabria, which is Italy's least-developed region. From the 1920s, Calabria's weak socio-economic position led to outmigration to northern industrial centers and other countries.
Industrial activity is still limited in Calabria, with food processing, tobacco, and beverages the largest industries. The region's service sector, however, is almost too large. With a long beautiful Mediterranean shore and many nature parks, Calabria is a popular tourist destination. Agriculture continues to play a major role in the regional economy. The region's economic weakness is revealed in the lower amount and quality of infrastructure like highways and railways despite significant investments.
Calabria is well known for its enduring relationship with organized crime. The Ndragheta, a mafia-like organization, has been involved in the region's business activities and its share of public funding. The European Institute of Political, Economic and Social Studies (Italian) that the Ngragheta accounted for almost three percent of Italy's GDP in 2007, with a business volume of 44 billion €. The organization's main activities are drugs, commercial activities, and public contracts.
Before the world economic crisis began in 2007, Gioia Tauro Harbour was the Mediterranean's primary transshipment hub. Gioia Tauro Harbour offered 22 intercontinental services including 28 Mediterranean services (with 18 feeder services) and six services for North Europe. In 2007, Gioia Tauro Harbour was serving 18 maritime companies, including the four top shipping companies in the world, and had shipping links with 49 ports in the Mediterranean and 174 ports outside the Mediterranean.
Today, the port at Gioia Tauro Harbour is undergoing economic troubles. Its growth has lagged behind other Mediterranean and European ports. Other ports in the Mediterranean invested in their transshipment services before the worldwide economic crisis, and when the crisis came, Gioia Tauro Harbour's global maritime trade began to shrink. Gioia Tauro Harbour was overtaken as the region's transshipment hub by Ports Said and Algeciras in 2010. Gioia Tauro Harbour customers subsequently chose other ports.
In the fall of 2010, the European Commission helped Italy's national, regional, and local governments reach an agreement to re-launch the port at Gioia Tauro Harbour and develop the Gioia Tauro Harbour area. The strategy relies on developing an intermodal platform and a logistics district in Gioia Tauro Harbour to transform the port into multiple purposes beyond transshipment. The transformed Gioia Tauro Harbour would then support developmental and economic spill-over for the surrounding area. In the first quarter of 2011, Gioia Tauro Harbour enjoyed an increase in traffic; however, the port's major client, the Maersk Line, decided to leave Gioia Tauro Harbour in July 2011, bringing a 40% drop in traffic. Since then, Gioia Tauro Harbour's remaining major client, MSC-Mediterranean Shipping Company, has threatened several times to leave. The future for Gioia Tauro Harbour is in question today.
In 2006, Italian investigators issued a report that estimated that 80% of the cocaine coming to Europe from Colombia arrived through Gioia Tauro Harbour and that the port is also involved in the trade of illegal arms. Both of these activities are controlled by the Ndrangheta. However, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Europol, reported that the Iberian Peninsula is the main point of entry for cocaine into Europe. Since 1994, the Ndrangheta has received a kickback for every transshipped container that amounts to around half of the net profits earned from that port activity.
In early 2008, Italy's Antimafia Commission (Italian), a parliamentary body, determined that the Ndrangheta controls or influences much of the Gioia Tauro Harbour's economic activity and that it uses the port as a base for its illegal trafficking activities. The Commission believed that the illegal activities basically eliminated Gioia Tauro Harbour's competitive position, its provision of goods and services, and its workforce practices, throwing a shadow over the local government and other public agencies.