Modernization of ports seen to be imperative

Greek ports face a bleak future if the government’s modernization plans are not realized, a senior official warned yesterday. «The proposals for the modernization of the Greek port system, spearheaded by Piraeus and Thessaloniki, are overdue. The implementation of the investment plan is expected to triple the capacity of the Piraeus container terminal to 4.8 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units),» Giorgos Vlachos, the Merchant Marine Ministry’s general secretary for ports, told a conference in Thessaloniki. He said the plans include concession agreements to private operators for two container terminals in Piraeus (one existing and one planned), while the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) will retain operations in one existing terminal. A private concession is also envisaged for Thessaloniki’s container terminal, where estimated investments of about -250 million should also triple handling capacity to 1.6 TEU. Earlier this month, port workers started rolling strikes and work-to-rule in protest against the goverment’s plans. They argue that since both ports are profitable there is no need for the entry of private investors and operators. Vlachos said the dockers’ concerns are groundless, as in the concession agreements they will be given the options of retaining their jobs, early retirement or transfer to other government departments. His speech was interrupted by protesting dockers who entered the venue and unfolded banners with slogans. Vlachos said the current period is particularly crucial for the port industry worldwide, as developments will determine future operating conditions. On the sidelines of the conference later, Vlachos told participants that «there is no going back» on the plans, and predicted that tension will continue to rise until the decisions on modernization are published in the official journal of the European Union. The conference heard that current developments in the port industry have created a new reality which gives Greece a comparative advantage due to its large shipping industry and geographical proximity to the Black Sea. It was argued that China and India are showing strong interest in increasing trade with the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Black Sea, while demand for container management in the region and the eastern Mediterranean is projected to rise 137 percent by 2015. Turkey, Syria and Egypt have already implemented concession agreements for their container ports in order to tap the favorable trends.