Regarded as the “southern gate” of Europe, Piraeus — which means “guarding the passage” in Greek — is now the second largest port in the Mediterranean Sea.
A decade after the Chinese shipping company’s first investment in Piraeus port, China-Greek cooperation is striving to make Piraeus the number one port in the Mediterranean Sea, port representatives told Xinhua in a recent interview.
China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO Group) is a Chinese state-owned shipping and logistics services supplier company. It ranks third both in the number of container ships and in aggregate container volume in the world. In 2016, the COSCO Group merged with China Shipping Group to form China COSCO Shipping.
In 2008, the former COSCO Group obtained a 35-year franchise right of No.2 and NO.3 container terminals of the Piraeus. In 2016, the COSCO Shipping acquired a 67 percent stake in the Piraeus port authority for 368.5 million euros (418.9 million U.S. dollars), officially becoming the operator of the port.
The development of Piraeus in recent years is the encouraging results of the cooperation between Greece and China within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Amid the debt crisis that hit Greek hard, local economy has benefited from the investment that improved the port’s image with impressive results, said Vassilis Korkidis, president of Piraeus Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He said that the COSCO’s investment in the port is a “flagship project” of Greece, which greatly improved the throughput capacity of the port and created vast numbers of employment opportunities.
“It was an investment of more than 3.5 billion euros. A lot of activities were motivated with the development of the port, which means new jobs — much better paid jobs than other workers’ in Greece,” he explained.
Since the COSCO’s involvement in 2008, the port’s annual throughput capacity has been raised from the initial 0.68 million TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit) to 4.15 million TEUs in 2017. The port is now ranked 36th among the 100 biggest ports of the world (Lloyd’s List), up from 93rd when the COSCO took over.
“It is a very great achievement and it is still developing. As the most rapidly developing port in the world, we want to keep this pace and strive to be number one in the Mediterranean Sea,” Korkidis said.
According to Korkidis, the partnership between the COSCO Shipping, one of the world’s largest shipping groups, and the Greek shipowners, who own the world’s largest fleet, is “a great marriage.”
“The COSCO’s investment, in my view, is the only real investment in Greece, because they brought the money and put it into infrastructure,” Korkidis said.
Tassos Vamvakidis, PCT Commercial Manager, shares the same determination to further develop Piraeus. He has been working at the port for 40 years since he joined the shipping industry when he was 16 years old.
Vamvakidis told Xinhua that his initial decision to join the COSCO was made after he saw the company’s transformation of the port, especially the container terminal.
“The port’s situation had been very bad before the COSCO took it over. The customer service at the port was very poor. When I saw the great change later, I happily decided to join in,” Vamvakidis said.
The road to success was not always rosy. “It was one of the very first private investments in Greece ever, so the general reaction of the unions was not very good. And it took us so much time to clarify that COSCO Shipping is an investor, not an invader,” Vamvakidis said.
“Very hard work was done, and day by day, we gained the respect and understanding of the market and the public. I am very happy and honored as a member of this team who convinced the market that they made a very good decision,” he added.
As a star employee, Vamvakidis also represented the COSCO Shipping to attend the first Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China. “The Belt and Road Initiative is not just about business investment, it is about people-to-people exchanges,” he said.
“I was at the people-to-people session of the Forum, and I explained how Greeks behave and their love for the sea, the world, and the time-honored civilization,” he told Xinhua.
“I agree with this initiative, which is highly beneficial for Greece. We should spare no efforts joining and supporting the Belt and Road Initiative,” the Greek manager said.