Piraeus aims for Mediterranean port top spot

Piraeus is on track to become the Mediterranean’s biggest commercial port, though European competition authorities are not happy about aspects of the Greek port’s expansion.

Already one of the world’s busiest passenger ports, in 2013 Piraeus  became the Mediterranean’s third largest container port and as one of the fastest growing ports in the world, is by 2016 expected to become the Mediterranean’s top port.

The port's growth is primarily due to Piraeus Container Terminal (PCT), the local subsidiary of China’s Cosco Pacific, which handled 2.52m teu last year at its concession terminals II and III, a better performance than the 2.4m teu predicted. With the 644,000 teu handled at the Piraeus Port Authority (PPA)'s terminal I, the 2013 total is 3.164m teu.

The Chinese concession posted a 20% increase in 2013, on top of the massive 77% rise recorded in 2012. In 2013 the PPA terminal posted a 3% increase, making the overall increase the largest in the world in 2013.

Completion of Cosco’s new EUR230m investment in upgrading the western section of terminal III will lift Piraeus' capacity from an annual 4.2m teu to 6.2m teu. In 2012 Piraeus ranked fourth among Mediterranean box ports, behind Spain's Valencia, top with 4.46m teu, and Algeciras, with Turkey’s Ambarli, just outside Istanbul, third.

However, Cosco's plan to develop Piraeus into a major gateway for China's trade into Europe is still to secure the green light from the EU Competition commission, though, both Shipping and Aegean minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis and PPA chairman and managing director, George Anomeritis contend the hurdles are being cleared, one by one. Competition officials are said to be looking at aspects of the privatisation of the PPA and the concession contract between the PPA and Cosco.

Proximity of Piraeus to Suez, the point of entry for Asian products to Europe, and its rail interconnection with the national and continental networks, saves some six days for products on their way to Central Europe, making it the entry of choice for Asian trade, and this at a time when traffic at Northern Europe’s three biggest ports – Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp – is stagnating or falling.

Another advantage for Piraeus is its car terminal. The Mediterranean is a key European entry point for vehicles from Japan, South Korea and India, and Piraeus is a top-choice transit center for cars, while EU car imports from Japan through the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea are on the rise. In 2012 the PPA's car terminal posted an increase of 9.8% in traffic over 2011, and was up 66% on 2009.

Expansion of the container capacity, coupled with an increasing number of Asian conglomerates turning to the Greek port as a European transit hub, a growing car handling business and expanding activity in the cruise sector, according to port analysts opens the way for Piraeus to become the biggest commercial port in the Mediterranean by 2016.

South Korean multinational Samsung is the latest technology giant to examine the possibility of forwarding its products to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe through Piraeus port and Samsung has expressed "strong interest" in talks with China's Cosco.

Samsung’s head of consumer electronics, Boo-Keun Yoon, has been leading initial contacts with PCT. Cosco’s PCT is basing its 'sell' strategy on the cooperation model it has already agreed with Hewlett Packard and Greek rail operator Trainose for the forwarding of the US company’s goods to Central Europe. Deals have also been negotiated with China’s Huawei and ZTE Corp, the telecommunications equipment and network solutions providers.

Posted 06 February 2014

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David Glass

Greece Correspondent, Seatrade Maritime