Among Europe’s largest ports, one is under China’s control.

According to German media DW, Chinese shipping group COSCO has been the biggest stakeholder of Piraeus, Greece’s largest port, since 2016. It owns a 67% majority stake in the port and has authority over all the terminals and piers.

The major privatization occurred as Greece was in the midst of a sovereign debt crisis. It brought about 1.5 billion euros to the government, with COSCO being the only investor who dared to take the bet. DW noted that Piraeus had become the largest port in the eastern Mediterranean.

Still, Costas Chlomoudis, a professor of maritime studies at the University of Piraeus, doesn’t call it a success story. He reminded that COSCO has the power to decide the port’s future.

He says, “In the way it was carried out, the sale of the port of Piraeus to COSCO was a tragic mistake.”

Chlomoudis detailed that the model of port involvement by the private sector used in other parts of Europe is unlike that used in Greece. Most E.U. nations allot a pier to a private corporation for a predetermined period, and that multiple rival enterprises frequently share a single container terminal. 

In the case of Greece, the professor says, “Piraeus is now directly dependent on a third country, namely China.”

Since COSCO invested in Piraeus, Chinese state-owned firm ships have been bringing an increasing amount of cargo to the port, and it has since grown to be one of the key transshipment centers in the Mediterranean.

This has not been a concern for other Greek ports, which do not compete with Piraeus. But other transshipment centers in the south-eastern Mediterranean have lost their revenue as their importance dropped.

While COSCO managed to secure employment, complaints about working conditions in Piraeus have appeared repeatedly. Unions are urging for better safety protocols after a dockworker passed away in an accident on a container pier last year. 

Nonetheless, DW added that other parts of Greece are also struggling with similar situations. The relevant inspection authorities don’t appear to give COSCO much scrutiny, as with every other big corporation in the country. 

Chlomoudis calls for common guidelines. He views that the concession contract must convey other conditions to protect Greece and the E.U.’s national security. 

He asserts that geostrategic infrastructure should be subject to the same standards across the bloc, including in Rotterdam, Hamburg, and Piraeus ports.

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