ECONOMY

Greek ports set for major overhauls before 2004

Greece’s major ports are scheduled to undergo a series of large construction projects designed to upgrade their infrastructure and increase the cargo handling capacity. Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports, the two biggest and expected to remain so, will receive the lion’s share of funds. Igoumenitsa, on the northwestern coast, however, is projected to become a major new hub after the completion of the 680-km (422-mile) Egnatia Highway which will channel traffic to and from northern Greece, to the northeastern Turkish border and beyond. The need for improving the country’s ports only dawned on officials with the launch in recent years of high-speed ferries which have higher requirements, and with the prospect of the 2004 Olympic Games. The issue is no doubt also linked to the planned full deregulation of the coastal shipping industry as of January 1, 2004 (after the partial freeing of fare structures on November 1, 2002). The first move by the Merchant Marine Ministry was to convert the legal status of the ports from state-run utilities to societes anonymes to allow the entry of other shareholders. Besides Piraeus and Thessaloniki, the measure also concerns the ports of Alexandroupolis, Kavala, Volos, Rafina, Lavrion, Elefsina, Patras, Igoumenitsa, Corfu and Iraklion. The major project in Piraeus, still at the planning stage, consists of new facilities for cruise ships in Palataki, including three new docking bays that will increase capacity by 30 percent. The others include an upgrade of the port’s water supply and sewer system, the aesthetic upgrading of green spaces and buildings, a five-star hotel (also in Palataki), a 700-car underground parking lot near the port’s exhibition facility (OLP) and deepening the harbor. For the Thessaloniki port, which is expected to play a major role in Balkan trade in coming years, the plans include an extension of container storage facilities near the Sixth Pier by four acres, an extension to the pier itself with a view to handling containers of all sizes, an overhaul of the passenger terminal for cruise ships, and connections to road and rail networks. The port of Patras will receive about 85 million euros for projects, those of Igoumenitsa and Kavala, 45 million each, and Rafina, 30 million euros.