Transforming Thessaloniki Port into a Regional Transport Hub

Sotirios Theofanis, Chairman of the BoD & Managing Director of Thessaloniki Port Authority S.A., says planned expansion will help make Thessaloniki an international transportation hub for southeastern Europe and the Balkans.

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GIG: The port’s privatisation envisages an ambitious investment plan – €180 million over a seven-year horizon – for its renovation and development. Given that the last major works date back to the 1990’s, what are the milestones of the Thessaloniki Port Authority’s (ThPA’s) ambitious investment plan, and what are your priorities going forward? Are you currently on track? What are the main obstacles you have to overcome?

Sotirios Theofanis Chairman of the BoD & Managing Director of Thessaloniki Port Authority S.A.

Theofanis: The ThPA proceeds at a rapid pace for the implementation of the mandatory enhancements programme, with a special focus on the major project, which is the expansion of Pier 6.

Our goal is to launch the construction works as soon as possible in order to obtain the infrastructure required to become an international transport hub for southeastern Europe and the Balkans, thus contributing decisively to the economic growth of Thessaloniki and the broader area. A strategic objective of ThPA is a programme which is currently in progress and aims at upgrading equipment and improving the quality and level of services provided.

The consortium that took over 67% of the shares of ThPA has the obligation to invest €180 million during the next seven years. The main element of these obligatory investments is the extension of the container terminal by 460.0 m with a depth of -17.6 m. This investment will provide the possibility of accommodating Super Post New Panamax container vessels with a capacity of 18,000 TEUs.

This infrastructure will provide the capacity to the Port of Thessaloniki to accommodate container mainliner services and, irrespective of the developments in container shipping, will provide a strong competitive advantage for the port. Following the expansion of the container terminal, its capacity will reach 1.3 million TEUs. This expansion project is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2022 transforming the Port of Thessaloniki into a state-of-the-art facility served directly by the biggest lines and vessels operating in the Mediterranean market.

Besides these obligatory investments, ThPA plans two major investments for the conventional cargo terminals:

  • The extension of Quay 24 by 410.0 m and a depth of -16.5 m to cater to Super-, Post-, and New-Panamax-sized vessels, in order to accommodate big dry bulkers.
  • The unification of Piers 4 and 5, creating a new front quay of approximately 600.0 m, with a depth of -15.0 m, to accommodate handymax dry bulk vessels and general cargo vessels of similar size.

These two expansion projects will provide additional annual cargo throughput capacity of around 4.0 million tones and a development cost of around €120 million, including equipment.

GIG: China’s COSCO has ambitions to make the Port of Piraeus not only a regional hub but for it to one day become Europe’s top port. What ambitions do you have for Thessaloniki in relation to the Balkans and the broader region? Would you say that the Port of Thessaloniki and the Port of Piraeus are complementary, or are they competitors?

Sotirios Theofanis Chairman of the BoD & Managing Director of Thessaloniki Port Authority S.A.

Theofanis: The Port of Thessaloniki and the Port of Piraeus are complementary. First of all, Piraeus mainly serves the greater Athens metropolitan area through imports, whilst the Port of Thessaloniki has a different market structure. It is a port that serves northern Greece, and particularly the exports of the country through northern Greece. The Port of Thessaloniki is the biggest export port in the country and at the same time, it is a transit port for southeastern Europe and Balkan countries, which gives it a different identity.

We are working to integrate the Port of Thessaloniki in the logistics supply chain by providing intermodal solutions to and from the Balkan countries. We want to transform the Port of Thessaloniki into a real hub, not only in terms of transport, but also in terms of networking and technology.

GIG: What are your plans regarding the development of a freight centre?

Sotirios Theofanis Chairman of the BoD & Managing Director of Thessaloniki Port Authority S.A.

Theofanis: As I said, our strategy revolves around the idea of synergy development in recently developed dry ports all over southeastern Europe and the Balkans. This corresponds to the current tendency worldwide, in terms of logistics and ports, of networking. This industry has witnessed a lot of changes over the last years, especially with the emergence of the international terminal operators and global terminal operators. This has changed fundamentally the entire sector. In our case, it is quite crucial to have a foothold all over our potential area of hinterland. On the other hand, we are also betting a lot on the strategy of being at the forefront of technology. We look for ways to establish a focused innovation hub for ports, freight transport, and logistics in the port. This will allow us also to achieve collaboration with universities, research institutions, as well as promising start-ups all over the Balkans and southeastern Europe. We see that traffic volumes along with technological development are quite important, not only for the picture of the port, but also for the substance of the port as a major transportation services provider. The motto is: we innovate, we test, we deploy. That means that the port will become a testing bed for all those new technologies. Drawing from the experience of other similar initiatives worldwide and incorporating the participation of the EXANTAS National Port Training Institute – a vocational training institute covering the areas of ports, freight transport, and logistics – we plan to develop the focused innovation hub.

GIG: What steps are you taking towards the development of cruise tourism? What timeframe are we talking about?

Sotirios Theofanis Chairman of the BoD & Managing Director of Thessaloniki Port Authority S.A.

Theofanis: Cruise traffic was strong in the past. The Port of Thessaloniki was an intermediate port of call. The cruise services involved, when the homeport of these service strings experienced difficulties, substantially decreased calls to the Port of Thessaloniki. Currently, our strategy is to convince cruise lines to use the Port of Thessaloniki as a homeport base for a certain niche of the cruise business in the area. The wider area of northern Greece covers a wide range of archaeological assets, historical places, and natural beauties and attractions that deserve attention. We need to communicate this to the cruise lines. We are working together with the regional and local authorities, and the clusters of businesses pertinent – directly or indirectly – to cruise services, to produce a cruise product we can offer to cruise lines.

The regeneration of the non-core port activities area of the port and, particularly, the symbolic old customs building, will contribute a lot towards this direction. This is a difficult process that takes time, but we are optimistic about the medium-term outcome.

GIG: What is the one key message you would send to foreign investors about investing in Greece?

Sotirios Theofanis Chairman of the BoD & Managing Director of Thessaloniki Port Authority S.A.

Theofanis: Now is the time to invest in Greece. Today’s coordinated efforts aim to form a better future than that we have experienced over the past decade.

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