ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece sealed the sale of Piraeus Port Authority (OLPr.AT) to China COSCO Shipping Corporation (601919.SS) on Friday, while striking dockworkers protested against what will be the country’s second major privatization since late last year.
The sale of Greece’s biggest port had been halted by the leftist government of Alexis Tsipras when it won elections in January last year but it was resumed under Greece’s 86 billion-euro bailout deal agreed with its euro zone partners in August.
Dockworkers walked out on Friday and marched in central Athens to protest against the deal, which they fear will put their jobs at risk. Container terminals were shut as a result of the strike. Brief scuffles broke between police and some of the protesters
“This is not a concession, it’s a giveaway of property belonging to the Greek people,” Constantinos Tsourakis, a worker at the port, said. “Why should China be masters of the game at Piraeus and not the Greek state?”
Under the 368.5 million euro ($418.58 million) deal, signed on Friday by China COSCO with Greece’s privatization agency, COSCO will buy 51 percent of Piraeus for 280.5 million and the remaining 16 percent for 88 million after five years and once it completes investments of 350 million over the next decade.
China COSCO Chairman Xu Lirong, present at the signing, likened Piraeus Port to the ‘Argo’, the ship used by Jason and the Argonauts.
“Let the ship sail and bring the Golden Fleece,” Xu said, adding that COSCO would invest in upgrading infrastructure at the port and that new jobs would be created.
“China COSCO Shipping ... will continue to be committed to Greek growth in the long-term,” he said.
Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang invited his counterpart Tsipras to visit China, Tsipras’ office said after the signing of the deal on Friday. The trip is planned for June.
The total value of the COSCO contract is 1.5 billion euros ($1.70 billion), including additional investment, as well as revenues of 410 million euros, dividends and interest Greece is expecting to collect under the 36-year concession deal between Piraeus Port and the government.
Privatizations, a major element of Greece’s bailouts since 2010, have produced revenue of only 3.5 billion euros so far because of political resistance and bureaucratic hurdles.
Athens concluded a 1.2 billion euro airport leasing deal with Germany’s Fraport (FRAG.DE) in December, hoping this would help the country meet this year’s target for privatization proceeds of 1.9 billion euros.
In January, Greece named COSCO as the sole bidder for Piraeus Port. Τhe port, a gateway to Asia, eastern Europe and north Africa, handled 16.8 million passengers and 3.6 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers in 2014.
COSCO has been operating one of the port’s container terminals since 2009 and is investing 230 million euros to build a second container terminal at the port.
($1 = 0.8804 euros)
Additional reporting by Lefteris Karagiannopoulos and Renee Maltezou; Editing by Jane Merriman