China’s COSCO raises stake in top Greek port Piraeus to 67%

State-owned China COSCO Shipping, China’s top maritime freight company, has lifted its stake in Greece’s largest port to 67%, tightening control over an important link in the country’s Belt and Road initiative.

An event was held Monday to mark the completion of the transfer to COSCO of an additional 16% stake in the Mediterranean Sea port of Piraeus, a container ship hub for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

COSCO says China’s involvement in Piraeus has helped it develop, citing increased container traffic through the port. But the Chinese presence remains contentious, both among locals accusing COSCO of failing to meet its obligations, and among countries like the U.S. that have expressed concern over possible military uses.

COSCO acquired a 51% stake in operator Piraeus Port Authority in 2016 for about 280 million euros ($326 million at current rates). It has provided no further details about this additional investment.

With the second phase of its share acquisition, the shipper will further expand its investment, increase its input of resources and launch new shipping routes to build the port into a regional logistics distribution center, Chairman Xu Lirong said, according to an announcement Monday.

“The company aims to help the port of Piraeus strengthen its position as a major port in the Mediterranean and become an important bridge of civilization, economy and friendship between China and Greece under the Belt and Road initiative,” the statement said.

The 2016 agreement stipulated that the shipper would receive the additional stake only if it completed investments in the port worth 300 million euros by 2021. The list of promised projects included expanding capacity for cruise ships and boosting shipbuilding infrastructure, but most remain incomplete, the Financial Times reported.
The Chinese side blames Greek bureaucracy and local resistance. Piraeus residents have filed lawsuits accusing COSCO of failing to follow environmental protocols and harming the local marine environment, the FT reported.

As of the end of June, COSCO had invested in 36 ports worldwide.

Source: Nikkei Asia