China eyes further boost to Piraeus hub

June 21, 2014 - 12:36:48 am
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (third left) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (third right) stand with port workers at the port of Piraeus yesterday.

PIRAEUS, Greece: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang yesterday said Piraeus could become one of the world’s “most competitive” ports if China shipper COSCO is able to fulfil its investment plan for the area.

“We hope to turn Piraeus...into one of the most competitive ports of the world,” Li, on a three-day visit to Greece, said as the first rail shipment of Chinese goods left the port for central Europe.

COSCO, which in 2008 signed a 35-year concession to expand the two main container terminals at the port, plans to pour $230bn (¤170m) in expansion works by 2020.

The additional infrastructure is calculated to increase the port’s capacity to over 6.0 million container units, from 3.16 million last year, officials said yesetrday.

The deal is subject to approval from the European Union, which has yet to give its consent.

“There is still much under discussion (concerning Piraeus),” Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in welcoming Li on Thursday.

“I believe that Europe itself understands that Greece constitutes a natural maritime link to China,” he said.

China is also interested in a 67-percent stake in the Piraeus port authority, which is being sold by the Greek state under the EU-IMF bailout agreement contracted to avert Greece’s bankruptcy in 2010.

Reportedly, Brussels is not keen to see China increase its hold on Piraeus, one of the busiest ports in the Mediterranean in terms of commerce but also tourism traffic.

“The port of Piraeus can become a Chinese gateway to Europe. It is like a pearl in the Mediterranean Sea,” said Li, on his first trip to southern Europe since becoming premier.