Monday, March 20

The unstoppable gentrification of the sea: why more and more Balearic ports fall into the hands of companies

“The Club Náutico de Ibiza is the only space (within the port of Eivissa) that currently does social and sports sailing. The rest are business concessions that pay millionaires to do business”, denounced Antoni Estades, president of the Association of Balearic Yacht Clubs (ACNB), to The case of Ibiza serves to exemplify what is also happening with other yacht clubs in the Balearic archipelago, such as the Club Náutico de Palma, the Club Marítimo de Maó (Menorca) or the Club de Vela Port d’Andratx (Mallorca). A process that they have called the “gentrification” of the ports.

The judge investigates the participation of Puertos del Estado in the rigging of concessions in the Balearic Islands


The board of directors of the ACNB recently returned to lament the situation of “legal defenselessness” that they say they live. They do not understand that being non-profit entities, which fulfill an important social function that public administrations do not cover -such as facilitating and promoting the sports practice of sailing and canoeing in the Balearic Islands, the sports that have contributed the most Olympic medals to Spain – are in danger of disappearing. Or, at least, in clear regression. As they recently warned, the delicate legal situation in which they find themselves could lead, in the short term, to “the loss of numerous sports licences, as well as the disappearance of regattas that are now fully consolidated”, which would also close “access to the sea to the residents”.

“There may be large capitals behind”

The merchant marines, which are the companies that are bidding to win the concession awards, could hardly replace the function performed by the yacht clubs, Javier Sanz, president of the Royal Spanish Sailing Federation, explained to Like Estades, he believes that behind the companies that are bidding for the tenders there may be money from large capitals and investment funds. “The Higher Sports Council (CSD) is also concerned about the future of yacht clubs,” says Sanz.

“We believe in the coexistence of yacht clubs and marinas, I think we are very complementary,” answers Andy Halcón, vice president of the Balearic Islands Association of Nautical Sports Facilities (ANADE). “There is a need for non-profit entities that promote social navigation and the promotion of sport. And sailing needs both marinas and yacht clubs”, says Halcón. The problem right now is in a series of legal entanglements that cast doubt on this coexistence. “When we enter into legal issues, the responsibility no longer falls on the companies that operate marinas, or on the companies that have yacht clubs. For our part, there is no confrontation”, explains the vice president of ANADE.

We believe in the coexistence of yacht clubs and marinas. There is a need for non-profit entities that promote social navigation and the promotion of sports. And sailing needs both marinas and yacht clubs

Andy Hawk
Vice President of the Association of Nautical Sports Facilities of the Balearic Islands

The clubs that are in a more delicate situation are those considered to be of general interest (when there is, for example, freight transport or commercial maritime traffic) and which, for this reason, depend on the State through the Balearic Islands Port Authority (APB): those of Eivissa, Formentera, Alcúdia, Palma and Maó. The rest, having the powers transferred to the Government, are governed by a different legislation, which allowed clubs to obtain new concessions if they adapted to the new law. There is an exception: the Club de Vela Port d’Andratx has lost the concession in application of a Supreme Court ruling derived from administrative negligence from 21 years ago that is, they say, “impossible” to execute.

The board of directors of the ACNB described as “unfortunate” that this club has lost its concession in favor of IPM, a company that “already manages close to 2,000 moorings on the three main islands of the archipelago and that, not content with this, intends to stay with the monopoly of the maintenance of large yachts at the Moll Vell in Palma”. The representatives of the sports clubs point to the State as responsible for this scenario, which they accuse of “putting all kinds of impediments to the renewal of the concessions of these entities, in the face of the ‘facilities’ found by other port operators such as dry docks and companies mercantile”.

After the Board of Directors of Ports de les Illes Balears began the award procedure for the Club de Vela Port d’Andratx facilities in favor of the IPM group, the ACNB once again appealed to the regional and state authorities to develop “a legal framework that guarantees the survival of yacht clubs and the promotion of sport.”

Asked why they qualify the sentence as “impossible” to execute, Estades explains that during these last decades, the Club de Vela Port d’Andratx has made million-dollar investments that have been authorized. “The Supreme Court tells the administration to hand over the club to the winner of the contest, but a whole series of calculations must be made of the economic compensation that must be generated because the space has nothing to do with how it was before (when IPM won the contest)”, he assures.

In other words, if the new concessionaire keeps the assets that are the result of the Port d’Andratx Sailing Club’s investment, it would be producing, in the words of the ACNB, the recognition of the right “to obtain an economic benefit that in no way corresponds”. On the other hand, in relation to the case, they regret that Ports IB has ignored that “the bidding process referred to in the ruling was never resolved.” For this reason, they assured that they would carry out the corresponding judicial procedures.

Regarding the winning company, IPM, they remember that it operates very profitable marinas: Marina Port de Mallorca, Marina Cuarentena, Marina Ibiza and Marina Port Mahón, two dry docks (STP and Varadero Ibiza) and they are also fighting for control of another 120,000 square meters in the Moll Vell in Palma.

Yacht clubs warn of their “disappearance”

In the case of the yacht clubs that depend on the State, Eivissa, Palma and Maó currently operate with a Temporary Occupation Authorization (AOT) that only lasts a few years and that, in any case, does not guarantee its continuity in the future. The Club Náutico de Palma requested in 2015 the extension of its concession term for a period of 20 years, but a report by the State Attorney determined that the club did not have the right to the extension.

“The director of the APB requested a report from Madrid that if it had not been requested nothing would have happened because it was not mandatory. This report questioned the possibility of extending this concession. The matter has ended in the courts (…). I am sure that there are powerful economic interests that are interested in the space that the Náutico de Palma occupies”, comments Estades. Asked if these economic interests imply the bidding of companies with economic injections of investment funds or venture capital, Estades believes that he would not be surprised if “the concessionaires who right now may be occupying public maritime domain in Eivissa or Palma have strong injections of capital from abroad.

I would not be surprised if the concessionaires that right now may be occupying public maritime domain in Eivissa or Palma have strong injections of capital from abroad

Antoni Estades
President of the Association of Yacht Clubs of the Balearic Islands

This pressure from large companies threatens, according to the ACNB, with causing the disappearance of yacht clubs and the closure of access to the sea for local residents. “It is a very serious situation that requires the adoption of urgent measures,” they said in a press release. Otherwise, they indicate, the public ports of the Balearic archipelago will become “the private business of a few.”

The difficulties of maintaining themselves lie in the fact that these companies, with or without profit motives, occupy the public domain, with which they are subject to the policy of public tender, which must be open to everyone. “The clubs or port areas that depend on Ports IB, with the regional law on ports of 2005, were able to renew their concessions having to make a series of adaptations or investments”, clarifies Estades. These renewals were formalized between 2010 and 2011, for a period of about 35 years. A completely different situation from that found by those who depend on the State, with different regulations.

To reverse the situation, the yacht clubs are proposing to the APB a drafting of specifications for contests in which the social function and sport are valued above the economic part. “This would mean that the yacht clubs, when applying for a concession, would be competitive with respect to a company,” says Estades. Although the ideal would be, in his opinion, a law that, based on reasons of general interest, would protect the survival of the clubs. It is a scenario that they believe is far away due to the principle of competition and free competition that operates in public procurement.

To reverse the situation and avoid its disappearance, the yacht clubs propose to the Balearic Islands Port Authority a drafting of specifications for contests in which the social function and sport are valued above the economic part

“It is also very important that we can have a social boating with more affordable prices, that is, that the fact that mooring rates are more expensive does not score more. Low rates should be rewarded. This is the key: turning the bases of the contest, rewarding the low quotas and the socio-sports activity, ”says Estades.

On this point, the nautical association ANADE considers that if the procedures of public tenders are carried out correctly “there is space for everyone”. “Let’s not forget that whoever starts taking an optimist course at a yacht club can end up buying a 25-meter boat and going to a marina,” says Halcón. The vice president of ANADE does not shy away from the evidence of the data provided by the ACNB. “If the current trend continues, obviously they will disappear. Based on the numbers, they are at risk. But the SL must not be criminalized either ”, he assures.

Promotion of grassroots sport

A study by the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB) estimates that there are 7,800 students who each year receive training in the nautical and maritime fields of the Balearic archipelago, according to a statement from the ACNB. The number of sports licenses would amount to more than 1,300 and it is estimated that 300 regattas are held each season sponsored by the territorial federations. The awards obtained by athletes with a club license exceeded 350 in 2022.

It is a task that, they consider, will not be carried out by commercial entities, “whose purpose is none other than obtaining the maximum dividends for the management of moorings.” For this reason, they conclude, they consider that “it is evident that the public powers, either due to neglect or other interests, are not aware of the speculative pressure to which these entities are subjected or of the social consequences that would derive from their disappearance” .

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