CECILIA Eckelmann-Batistello, the lady who put colour into container shipping, died suddenly last Wednesday (6 March) just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. She was 73.

Ms Batistello was an unapologetically glamorous, pioneering woman in liner shipping, protégée of Contship Containerlines founder Angelo Ravano, whose company she joined in 1973 rising to managing director in 1988.

Contship had been established in Switzerland in 1969, later moving headquarters to London and entering the Europe-Australia trade under the name Eagle Container Line in 1982 as a non-conference carrier with small, geared, chartered container ships. In 1986 another venture, Ocean Star Container Line, began a westbound round-the-world service calling Australia. These two brands, along with several other regional operations, were consolidated under the Contship Containerlines name in 1987.

Contship regularly upgraded and upsized its fleets, most conspicuously when the first of a series of newbuilding BV1600s, the lurid pink Contship Germany, debuted in 1992. It was followed, amongst others, by the bright yellow Contship Singapore, the turquoise Contship Italy and the red superstructured Contship Ticino, all reflecting Ms Batistello’s bold approach to business (and a keen eye for PR).

Ms Batistello was a regular visitor to Australia and somewhat revered by company staff. “She was the only person allowed to smoke in a non-smoking office,” one recalled. Another noted she made no waterfront concessions to her dress sense, happy to visit terminals and ships in “very high heels”.

In 1997, three years after Mr Ravano’s death reportedly to her considerable distress, the shipping interests of Contship were sold during a period of rapid industry consolidation to CP Ships, which itself was acquired by Hapag-Lloyd a few years later.

Ms Batistello then took over terminals division Contship Italia before it too was sold, to shareholder Eurokai of Germany, Europe’s largest container terminal operator, owned by the Eckelmann family. Ms Batistello married Thomas Eckelmann in 1996 and continued to work alongside him in the expanded company and was on the management board at the time of her death. Eurokai is now run by her stepson, Tom.

Contship Italy. Image: Dale Crisp
Contship Singapore