Sarantos Zilakos, a young Greek electrical engineer, is leaving work each afternoon since 2011 with a warm smile on his face. He returns home to his wife and 17-month-old daughter proud, because he feels he is making his own contribution to a major project that has been praised internationally as a success story of bilateral cooperation between Greece and China.
Zilakos, 31, is working at the department of cranes maintenance at Piraeus Container Terminal (PCT), a Cosco Shipping subsidiary which runs the site in the past seven years posting impressive results.
Piraeus has never witnessed such glory, he told Xinhua in a recent interview as state leaders were gathering at Beijing to discuss the Belt and Road Initiative in which Greece's largest port holds a key role.
After the Chinese investment at PCT piers have been expanded and upgraded, modern cranes have been erected, the terminal has been linked to the railway network connecting the port to central Europe, the number of containers loaded and discharged has skyrocketed.
Cargoes loaded and unloaded at the port totaled 3.74 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) in 2016, up from 880,000 TEUs in 2010, when Cosco's subsidiary Piraeus Container Terminal (PCT) took over the management of Piers II and III.
Born, raised and still living at Piraeus, son of a seafarer, Zilakos has witnessed the change up close. He is optimist that the work done inside the port will help Greece recover from a seven year acute debt crisis, in particular after Cosco also purchased the majority stake in Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) last year.
According to the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (TAIPED), the total value of the OLP agreement amounts to 1.5 billion euros until the expiration of the concession in 2052.
OLP's privatization will help create 125,000 jobs, according to a survey of the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE), one of Greece's leading think tanks.
"The local society has embraced the port because it is not only the premises of the port which are blossoming, but also the other stores outside and our partners are flourishing," Zilakos told Xinhua.
"One store after the other was closing due to the economic crisis which hit Greece. Today all our partners who are running their businesses outside the port and are cooperating with Cosco have opened new stores, new entrepreneurs have joined in… All these are fundamental. These are great steps for the local economy," he said.
In a country suffering from high unemployment – with rates reaching up to 65 percent among youth – the investment has opened prospects for jobs. Several young people are sending their CVs to PCT, including many of Zilakos' friends.
Currently thousands of Greeks are working at the port along with a small number of Chinese managers. People of different philosophies find the common ground and collaborate harmoniously to achieve the best results, the young electrical engineer noted.
Working conditions are very good, he said. All employees are offered a free meal during their shift.
"Each one of us here is a member of a team. We do not take into consideration whether someone is Chinese or Greek. We are all working as a team and we all learn from each other," Zilakos told Xinhua.
"The management is listening to the employees, they discuss our ideas and views and this helps us become more productive," he underlined.
After the success story of PCT through win-win Sino-Greek cooperation he is convinced that bilateral cooperation can be successful also in other fields, he said.
"Greece, our country, is going through very difficult years this period and it is very important for such a small country with so many problems today to become a junction, an international junction (for trade)," Zilakos stressed.
He strongly believes that China can help Greece become this junction. He sent his CV to PCT in 2011 because he was impressed with the Chinese and their working style.
Before his work for PCT, as an employee of a Greek company, in 2008 he spent seven months at Dalian, a coastal city in northeast China's Shenyang province, for ship repairing works.
He was impressed with how quickly constructions were erected within just a few hours and innovation in technology.
When he heard that Chinese investors arrived at Piraeus and electrical engineers are needed, he applied for a position at PCT and he was happy he made this decision, he told Xinhua.