NEWS

Cosco chief considers more investments

The president and chief executive officer of the China Ocean Shipping Company (Cosco), which took over the operation of the two main container terminals at Piraeus in January, said yesterday that he was «satisfied» with his three-day visit to Athens and was considering additional investments in the Greek economy. In comments to reporters outside the Maximos Mansion, where he had talks with Prime Minister George Papandreou, Captain Wei Jiafu said that he had received a handful of proposals for possible investments. These include Cosco’s help in finding a buyer for the loss-making Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), a possible investment in Kastelli airport near Hania on Crete, and further involvement of the Chinese firm in Piraeus. Questioned about the proposals, Captain Wei said that they did not all fall within Cosco’s competencies but pledged to help promote them to other companies in China. «I will need your help in presenting some of these projects in China,» he said, adding, «I will focus on Piraeus.» The Cosco head said he was very happy with his company’s investment in the Piraeus terminals, noting that the first four months of this year had seen an increase of 43 percent in container traffic compared to the same period last year. Captain Wei was keen to stress that Cosco would «respect its contractual obligations,» noting that his firm had hired only Greek port workers. «We have already recruited 300 local workers. We never bring workers in from China,» he said. Economy, Competitiveness and Merchant Marine Minister Louka Katseli, who oversaw the handover of the terminals to Cosco in January, told Parliament yesterday that turning Piraeus into the Mediterranean’s main commercial hub should be one of the country’s priorities. Along with the lifting of cabotage restrictions, such a move is crucial to safeguard the country’s tourism sector, which accounts for around 20 percent of gross domestic product, she said. Katseli told Parliament that the shipping sector was the only one to have made major investments in spite of the financial crisis, noting that some 2 billion euros had been spent on the purchase of new ships in the first four months of the year. Parliament Speaker Filippos Petsalnikos struck a similar note, saying that Greece should «exploit its geopolitical location and maritime heritage» and take the necessary action to bolster its main port and the tourism sector in general.