ATHENS – The transformation of the once forlorn port of Piraeus outside Athens by the Chinese company COSCO got another boost when top officials of global cruise tourism giants Carnival and Royal Caribbean said the destination could lure more big liners.
Carnival Corporation’s Vice President for global port and destination development, Michel Nestour, told Kathimerini that his group is already making plans for the further development of its homeporting activity in Piraeus based on the new infrastructure.
Royal Caribbean’s Commercial Development Director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Ana Karina Santini, said the same, which could prove another boon for Greece’s tourism market that’s been on a record run for several years.
The southern expansion of Piraeus’ passenger terminal will create two slots for the docking of new-generation cruise liners longer than 80 meters (262.46 feet) which are expected to be ready within 32 months, expanding the capacity and ability to berth larger ships.
Arrivals of cruise ships in Greek ports went up 14.34 percent in 2019 compared to the year before, the Hellenic Ports Association reported in early January. The country’s 43 ports saw some 3,899 cruise ferries arrive in 2019, a significant rise from the 2018 figures which saw 3,410 cruisers sail in.
Consequently, cruise passengers increased to 5,537,500 in 2019, from 2018’s 4,788,642 passengers, marking a 15.64 pct increase.
Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) Chairman Yu Zenggang said “Cosco Shipping has a holistic plan for the development of the port of Piraeus, aiming to improve all activities.”
The company, whose hopes to further improve the port were stymied by the former ruling anti-business Radical Left SYRIZA during its 4 ½ years in power has gotten support from the New Democracy government that’s seeking to increase foreign investment.
In November, 2019, the ambitious plans by COSCO were aimed at making Piraeus the number one across the region and an entryway for Chinese goods especially as part of a New Silk Road plan.
China is looking to transform Greece’s Piraeus port into the biggest harbor in Europe — making it the most crucial transit hub for trade between Asia and Europe.
“The objective is to transform it into the biggest transit hub between Europe and Asia and, potentially, the biggest port in Europe,” Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Kostas Fragogiannis told CNBC.
COSCO bought a majority stake in the port in 2016 under the SYRIZA which disallowed plans for a 600-million euro ($656.21 million) overhaul of the port, the party having hard-core elements who don’t want foreign businesses in the country.
With Piraeus at a strategic location between the Asian and European continents, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced the renovation of the port, with modifications to mollify local businesses fearing competition.
Piraeus is behind the Netherlands’ Rotterdam and Antwerp, Germany’s Hamburg and Bremen-Bremerhaven, Spain’s Valenicia and Algeciras, and Britain’s Felixstowe, but growing under the hand of COSCO.
“The geographical advantages of Greek ports can be utilized for facilitating and increasing transfer flows from China and the Far East to the European Union, the Balkans and the Black Sea region, and vice versa,” Fragogiannis also told CNBC.