Port concessions plan

The government will issue invitations for expressions of interest in concession agreements with private operators for the commercial ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki by mid-January, Merchant Marine and Aegean Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said yesterday. The agreements concern the container terminals of the two ports, in which interest has already been expressed by international port operators such as China’s COSCO, Italy’s MSC, Denmark’s Maersk and Dubai Ports World. Sources say that for Piraeus the tender will provide for the existence of two operators, one of which will remain the government-controlled Piraeus Port Authority (OLP), which will operate Pier 1. The private investor will operate Pier II and the planned Pier III. Thessaloniki’s container port will be exclusively run by a private firm. The model of concession agreements for ports has been successfully applied in many European ports and provides for the full assumption of investment costs by the concessionaire, the payment of a sum to the conceding party against the right to operate the port and the return of the facilities at the end of the concession period. It is believed that the investment involved in such agreements bolsters the competitive potential of ports and the number of jobs. Port operators hold the view that Greece must move faster in this direction in order to achieve the faster modernization of its port facilities to make them more competitive and enable them to garner a greater share of the volume of container trade, which is projected to triple by 2015. In the Mediterranean as a whole, this volume rose 22 percent in 2007 and in the Eastern Mediterranean by 25 percent. Voulgarakis said the agreements would fully safeguard existing jobs. «It is the government’s top priority and commitment that the labor rights of all workers in Piraeus and Thessaloniki be fully safeguarded,» he said. Under the concession agreement, container terminal workers will be given the right to opt for retiring early with compensation or be transferred to other public departments. A similar concession plan for the two container ports was frozen by the reaction of workers a year ago. The union is due to meet today to decide what line to follow for the revival of the plan. Sources did not rule out the possibility of a «dynamic clash with the ministry.»