Tender for a Controlling Stake in Greece’s Alexandroupolis Port Attracts Interest from Company with Chinese Ownership Ties

On October 17, Greek media reported that the Chinese-linked Thessaloniki Port Authority is among the four bidders to issue an “expression of interest” for a 67% controlling stake in Greece’s Port of Alexandroupolis.  Greece’s Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund will evaluate the expressions of interest to determine which bidders move to the next phase of the tender, involving the submission of binding offers.

The Alexandroupolis port is considered a southeastern gateway to Europe with strategic significance for both the U.S. and NATO and is expected to become a vital trade and energy hub for the region.  With a prospective acquisition, the successful bidder will gain exclusive rights under a 60-year concession agreement to the operation of the port, two smaller ports in the area, and adjacent buildings, land, and facilities.  The four bidders on the Port of Alexandroupolis are:

  • Thessaloniki Port Authority
  • a consortium comprised of Goldair Cargo SA, Bollore Africa Logistics, and the  Coupelozous Group;
  • a consortium, “International Port Investments Alexandroupolis,” comprised of U.S.-based Black Summit Financial Group, Europeports – EFA Group, and GEK Terna; and
  • Texas-based, Quintana Infrastructure & Development.

Thessaloniki Port Authority is majority-owned and controlled by a Cyprus-based holding company, South Europe Gateway Thessaloniki Limited (SEGT).  State-owned China Merchants Port Holdings (CMPH) maintains an indirect, 33% stake in SEGT through another Cyprus-based holding company, Terminal Link SA – a joint venture holding between CMPH (49%) and France’s CMA CGM (51%).  Another 20% of SEGT is owned by Belterra Investments, a company controlled by Russian-Greek businessman Ivan Savvidis, who has had past ties to the Kremlin.  The ownership ties between CMPH and Thessaloniki Port Authority are illustrated below:

Earlier this year, there was speculation in Greek media that CMPH would fully acquire Terminal Link.  This was based on reports that CMA CGM has recently offloaded nearly 10 ports to Terminal Link in a reported effort to improve its liquidity.  The effort was underpinned by almost $968 million in funding provided by CMPH.

China, through state-owned COSCO Shipping, also controls Greece’s largest port, the Port of Piraeus, following the acquisition of a majority stake in the port in 2016.  Piraeus is a critical node for Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  Piraeus and Thessaloniki’s combined assets would add to China’s growing role within European trade networks and transport infrastructure.  The ports facilitate access to Serbian and Hungarian railway systems, which have, in turn, also received significant technical and financial support from Chinese companies.  These projects have also had their financial viability questioned by many, raising the prospect that Beijing’s motivation in these cases is more strategic than commercial.

In July 2020, the Thessaloniki Port Authority signed two agreements for strategic cooperation with CMPH and subsidiary China Merchants Holdings International Information Technology (CMHIT).  Both agreements pertained to the integration of CMPH’s container terminal operating system by the Thessaloniki port operators, making it the first European port to install CMPH’s operating software.