China's Cosco, five other suitors express interest in Piraeus Port

ATHENS, April 28 (Reuters) - China’s Cosco Group and five other investors have expressed interest in a majority stake in Piraeus port (OLP), the largest in the country, Greece’s privatisation agency HRADF said on Monday.

Cosco Group’s initial interest for a 67 percent stake in OLP, is further highlighting Chinese investors’ appetite for Greek assets as the state sells off parts of its businesses to go some way to balance the bailed out country’s books.

Greece last month picked a Chinese-backed bid to develop a prime seaside property at the former Athens airport Hellenikon.

Cosco’s subsidiary, COSCO Pacific, the world’s fifth largest container terminal operator, sealed a deal with Greece five years ago to run and upgrade two of the state-owned Piraeus port’s piers for 35 years, aiming to turn OLP into a regional hub.

Last year it agreed to invest an extra 230 million euros to boost the port’s handling capacity over seven years and in return, it would stop paying fees to OLP.

HRADF said the largest U.S. terminal operator Ports America; Dutch container terminal operator APM Terminals; private equity firm Cartesian Capital Group; Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services and close-ended investment company Utilico Emerging Markets Limited had also submitted non-binding bids for OLP.

Since 2010, the crisis-hit country has signed deals worth 4.9 billion but raised only 2.7 billion euros from state assets sales, a key term of its 240 billion-euro bailout agreement with the European union and the International Monetary Fund.

Athens is aiming for privatisation revenues of 1.5 billion euros this year by selling the stake in OLP and privatising its railway operator TRAINOSE, rolling stock company ROSCO and some regional airports, among other assets.

Binding offers for OLP are expected by end of the year.

Piraeus is one of the busiest passenger ports in Europe, according to OLP data, and one of the top cargo ports in the Mediterranean. Cargo traffic rose 15 percent to 3.1 million twenty-foot equivalent units in 2013.

Greece has also put up for grabs its second biggest port, in the northern city in Thessaloniki. The deadline for non-binding bids expires on June 5.

Despite the crisis, OLP’s net profit rose 12 percent to 8 million euros last year. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Alison Williams)