In the final stretch to the conclusion of Piraeus Port Authority (PPA) privatization in June, Andreas Potamianos, one of the protagonists in Greek shipping for decades and president of the Greece-China Association, expressed confidence that the success of the project will benefit both countries.
Speaking to Xinhua during a recent interview at his office overlooking Greece’s largest port, Potamianos hailed the acquisition of the 67 percent stake in PPA by China COSCO Shipping as a landmark step in Sino-Greek cooperation as well as in the progress of the “Belt and Road” initiative and Greece’s economic development.
According to Potamianos, the combination of Greeks’ deep knowledge of maritime affairs and Chinese’s excellence in organization will help transform Piraeus into a modern key transit hub for passenger vessels and cargos in Europe and give boost to the revival of the ancient Silk Road and Greece’s efforts to restore growth and exit the six-year debt crisis.
Potamianos was not always in favor of PPA’s sale to foreigners, he told Xinhua. As most Greeks, he preferred that the port stayed in Greek hands, because he knew well Piraeus’ potential to hold a leading role in the development of Greek economy due to its geographical position.
But since Greeks failed to fully exploit this potential so far, he is glad for the cooperation with the Chinese and the signing of the deal in April rather than with any other investor.
The mutual respect and friendship between the two countries and peoples will be the most significant key to success, he said, pointing to the success story of COSCO Shipping’s first investment at Piraeus at the containers terminal. The results of Sino-Greek collaboration over the past seven years are impressive, he noted.
“I believe that if the Chinese exploit the port well they will see that it is very profitable and this cooperation will prove to be successful… Which is the goal after all? To improve the competence of employees and quality of services offered, to the benefit of the economy. I think that everyone is willing to help in this direction,” he told Xinhua.
The upgrade of Piraeus will benefit both sides, he explained. The port is already being transformed into a major gate for Chinese products and services into Europe, other multinationals have followed and the planned upgrade of the railway link to central Europe will enhance its significance in trade and transports.
Studies conducted by various institutes have shown that Greece will benefit from the creation of about 125,000 much-needed jobs in the recession-hit country and the multi-billion euro revenues raised over the next three decades by Piraeus’ upgrade with the help of the Chinese.
“I believe that they will significantly contribute to the development of Piraeus port which will become one of the most important ports in the future. And this is not only my opinion, but I know that also several major companies believe that Piraeus port can become a hub for passenger ships from abroad,” Potamianos stressed.
Currently, the port cannot host several gigantic cruise ships for long, he explained. Therefore, tourists rush to Athens to visit the Acropolis hill and leave within hours. The port’s extension is a priority so that cruise ships can remain docked for longer at Piraeus and foreign visitors can travel by train to other archaeological sites in the mainland, Potamianos said.
He appeared confident that closer Sino-Greek cooperation can lead to miracles. Greeks have a long experience in maritime affairs and Chinese are hard working people who can quickly materialize good ideas, he underlined.
Potamianos has been serving since 1987 as president of the Greece-China Association which this year celebrates the 60th anniversary of its establishment aiming to promote bilateral ties.
“In the beginning, we, including myself, did not realize the significance China could have for Greece. Over time we all realized it and everybody embraces China today,” Potamianos told Xinhua.
He called for the further enhancement of bilateral collaboration in many fields.
“Hopefully, there will be more such cooperation partnerships with the Chinese,” he said.
In particular, in the shipping sector he knows so well, he suggested the creation of Sino-Greek companies focusing on cruises.
His family’s involvement with shipping started in the mid-19th century. His great grandfather Anastassios Potamianos launched his first shipping venture in 1850 transporting cargo and passengers along the Danube river. The name Potamianos in Greek means the River Man.
“Epirotiki” Line operated cruise vessels, cargo and tanker vessels worldwide for decades.
The secret of Greeks’ leading role in international shipping is that current ship owners started as captains, like his great grandfather, and not businessmen with no previous experience of the sea, Potamianos explained.
He expressed certainty that the Chinese can also further develop in the shipping sector, since they do have the basic elements available: shipyards, fine vessels and crews, and marvelous places to visit.