COSCO Brings the Ships to Piraeus Port

At the Schiller Institute international conference in Strasbourg (cf. AS 29/23), former Italian undersecretary for Economic Development Michele Geraci refuted criticism coming from pro-NATO circles of the Belt and Road Memorandum signed between Italy and China in 2019. One of those arguments, still pushed by forces hostile to the renewal of the Memorandum, is that joining the BRI means “to sell ports out to China”. In the case of Italy, this is impossible because ports cannot be sold by law, and therefore the issue is whether Chinese investments in European ports are convenient.

The well-known case of Greece, where the Chinese shipping company COSCO bought a majority ownership of the Greek Piraeus Port Authority (PPA), shows that the answer is “Yes” at multiple levels. There has not only been the well-known dramatic increase in container ship traffic, but also, the ship repair facilities have seen an increase in ships coming to Greece to be repaired and serviced. According to an article in the Greek financial daily Naftemporiki, the number of ships being repaired annually has doubled. In the first half of 2023, 85 ships were serviced in the PPA’s dry docks. For the entire year of 2022, more than 130 ships were repaired. This compares to only 69 repaired in the year prior to COSCO taking over the port in 2016. Working days at the shipyards increased from 435 in 2016 to 1,306 in 2022. [Presumably, this indicates a change from one daily shift to three, i.e., ’round-the-clock—ed.]

The second upgrade of the port restores it as a center for ship building. COSCO has already initiated investment to further upgrade the infrastructure and electro-mechanical facilities to enhance the productivity of the Shipbuilding Zone. All of this is in addition to continuing to upgrade the container port, which has now become one of the most active in the Mediterranean.

Decades ago, Greece had been a major shipbuilder and repair center, but it has slowly declined since it joined the European Union. As part of negotiating the sale of a majority interest in the port, the Greek government called upon COSCO to invest beyond the container and cargo docks. This included reviving the ship repair and ship building yards as well as considerably upgrading the cruise ship and ferry terminals. The success of these upgrades depended on bringing the ships to the port. China, which carries out the largest seafaring trade, has been in the position to deliver the ships. The great success of China’s involvement in Piraeus should serve as a model, not as a threat, as the European Union maintains.

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