Last weekend Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras headed off for a state visit to China after a frenetic day in Parliament led his leftwing government to make a U-turn regarding the concession sale of the country’s largest port, Piraeus, to Chinese shipping conglomerate, Cosco.
On 4 July China Cosco Shipping and Greece’s privatisation agency Taiped in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, signed a letter confirming Cosco Shipping’s acquisition of a 67% stake in the Piraeus Port Authority (PPA).
Director and President of Cosco Shipping, Wan Min and Chairman of Taiped, Stergios Pitsiorlas, signed in the presence of China’s Premier Li Keqiang and Alexis Tsipras, Prime minister of Greece.
The deal, long touted as the one which would kick-start Greece’s stumbling privatisation programme and boost efforts to attract investments had to overcome many hiccups to get to this stage, but since it has, while the floodgates have not opened the investment front has received a major boost.
Having secured control of Piraeus port, China’s Cosco Shipping has pledged to invest EUR500m ($553m) in upgrading Greece’s largest port with the cruise and shipyard sectors the top priority. This pledge was made 6 July as Tsipras was winding up his five-day visit to China, and is in addition to a previous pledge worth EUR300m.
Following the formal signing of the EUR368.5m deal that sees Cosco gain control of a 67% slice of Piraeus, events moved quickly towards Xu’s pronounced goal of “turning Piraeus into the biggest transport centre in the Mediterranean”.
Hong Kong-listed Cosco aims not only to make Piraeus the biggest commercial port in the Mediterranean and one of Europe’s most important, but also the biggest ship repair point in the eastern Mediterranean and one of the most important cruise tourism junctions in the world.
In addition to transforming the cruise sector and re-igniting the country’s struggling shipyard sector, Cosco plans to invest in the port’s car terminal boosting its capacity to 20,000 vehicles and increase the annual volume of containers from the present 4.3m teu to 7m teu, and ultimately 10m teu.
There has been talk for over two years about Cosco ships and even, Chinese navy vessels, being repaired in Greece. Greek equipment manufacturers and logistic companies have also been talking of Cosco’s, and China’s, growing interest in the floundering Greek shipyard industry.
Tsipras told Chinese television Greece is really interested in Chinese investments in Greek shipyards. Xu said Cosco will proceed to equip a floating dock to serve the big container ships linking Asia with Europe, utilizing the high-level know-how of Greek companies in the sector.
Tsipras raised the issue of shipbuilding in Greece, but Xu said it is the ship repair development that must be achieved first, and for a climate of confidence to be consolidated before the two sides proceed to such a step.
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