Government urged to speed up sale of Piraeus port pier to Chinese

The head of China’s most important shipping company yesterday urged Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to speed up his government’s decision making regarding a possible deal for the Chinese firm to operate a pier at the port of Piraeus. Wei Jiafu, president of China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), visited Karamanlis to discuss the company’s request to operate the container pier now under construction by the Piraeus Port Authority and which will double the port’s cargo-handling capacity when completed at the end of 2007. Besides the pier, the company wants to acquire a large warehouse space nearby in order to assemble technology and other products to be sold in Greece and other markets, mainly in Southeast Europe. Upon leaving the PM’s office, Wei announced that his company will build some ships in Greek shipyards, which appears surprising, given that shipyards in the Far East have become more competitive over the past few years. Wei did not mention details. When Karamanlis visited China back in January, Wei had promised that a COSCO ship would dock at the port of Piraeus once a week. Since the first COSCO ship arrived in April, this timetable has been more or less adhered to. COSCO has also expressed interest in a second port, most likely in Thessaloniki, to use as a second container unloading facility. However, according to well-informed sources, the company is starting to get impatient with the government’s delay in decision-making, which is why Wei asked Karamanlis for «more functional cooperation» between the two sides. The official reason for Wei’s visit is the ceremony that will take place this morning on the occasion of the arrival of a new ship, chartered by COSCO from Greek-owned Costamare shipping. The new ship, one of five Costamare recently had built, will be christened COSCO Hellas and will fly the Greek flag. A global operator COSCO, founded on April 27, 1961, has become a worldwide operator, with a turnover reaching $17 billion last year. It operates 560 ships with a total capacity of 35 million deadweight tons. Through them, it transports cargo weighing over 300 million tons annually. Its fleet consists of many types of ships, but it is especially important in container cargo, one of the world’s top-10 container firms, and in dry bulk. COSCO is also involved in shipbuilding and repairs, logistics, real estate and information technology. Wei has headed the COSCO group since November 1998. Previously, he had headed the Singapore subsidiary, which was listed on the local stock market in 1993. There are other listed subsidiaries in the Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges. Recently, COSCO has expanded its shipbuilding operations in Dalian and Guangzhou, in northern and southern China respectively. It has also expressed an interest in expanding its operations into the Middle East through partnerships. One of its subsidiaries specializes in oil drilling technologies.