Since their recent merger, the newly formed COSCO Shipping Lines has emerged as a strong force on the world’s maritime stage. Combining their strengths has allowed the global carrier to begin making many large investments into new ships and services. Along with purchasing more assets, COSCO Shipping Lines has also joined the OCEAN Alliance; the biggest ever vessel sharing arrangement between carriers. The OCEAN Alliance is comprised of 350 vessels with a total capacity of 3.5 million TEUs, and dominates 35% of Asia-North America trade lanes and 39% of the Asia-Europe trade lanes. This bolsters COSCO Shipping Lines’ business even further by enabling more global coverage thanks to the other partners within the OCEAN Alliance.
Exciting new projects are also helping to boost confidence, with China’s Belt & Road Initiative leading the charge. This mega project is set to be one of the defining global trade initiatives of the century. The program is built upon a platform of mutually beneficial connectivity, infrastructure, and development programs that could help bring millions out of poverty. So far, the progress embraces over 60 countries and will affect over 4 billion people with trillions of dollars in infrastructure planning. Major projects of this size and scope are connecting nations and opening new corridors for road, rail, and ocean transportation.
With a belief in the project and an attitude for forward progress, COSCO Shipping Lines is investing in the Greek Piraeus Port. The carrier already has strong ties to Greece, as they have been operating two container terminals under a 35-year concession since 2009. Their latest investment sees the carrier becoming the controlling shareholder of the port, and is enabling them to offer extremely strong intermodal links into Europe via the Piraeus port, and could even one day become China’s gateway into Europe.
Maritime Silk Road
The Belt & Road Initiative is an exciting endeavor that looks to build infrastructure to connect countries around the globe. It is a two-pronged effort building trade routes for roads and rail as well as building and linking sea routes. The effort has already seen China signing bilateral cooperation agreements related to the project with Hungary, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, and Turkey.
A number of projects are under way, including plans like expanding the already established Eurasia land bridge that’s continuing to carry an increasing amount of cargo by rail between Europe and Asia. There’s also plans being drawn up for train connection between eastern China and Iran that may be expanded to Europe, as well as new rail links with Laos and Thailand and high-speed-rail projects in Indonesia that are being developed.
China is also looking to build relationships with Mediterranean and African ports for mutual beneficial trade. From this perspective, it makes sense why Piraues Port was so attractive for COSCO Shipping Lines. The Port is a few short miles south of the Greek capital, is home to the country’s shipping industry, as well as being one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean. This makes Piraeus Port and excellent transshipment hub for Asian exports to Europe arriving on container vessels from China. Given its proximity to the Suez Canal, the Port’s attractiveness to vessels coming to and from Asia cannot be understated. It is also a key focal point to the inland rail services and intra-European short sea loops to Northern Europe and the Black Sea. Current services include four westbound voyages and five eastbound voyages, all with direct calls totaling 5,000 TEUs per week.
COSCO Shipping Lines has not been standing idling by either, as they have begun to invest within the Port itself, strengthening their offering for customers. They own and operate several modern warehouses within the free zone at the Port. The original being a 7,500 sqm bonded warehouse and LCL center at the dock in the bonded area. This is the only class I bonded area in all of Southern Greece. Most recently, they completed construction of a 25,000 sqm bonded warehouse and LCL center, adding even more capacity to their already large storage and distribution center.
While a global ocean carrier will always have its focus on its primary market, COSCO Shipping Lines sees the strengths that come from having strong intermodal links inland. Once a container leaves the vessel, much still must be done to ensure its safe delivery to customers. It’s in a carrier’s best interest to grow these connections to distinguish their services, which in turn leads to having a strong intermodal network benefiting both themselves and customers.
One of the strongest points to utilizing Piraeus Port is the ease at which intermodal services can access the hinterland of Central and Eastern Europe. COSCO Shipping Lines dubs the service, “Central Europe Land-Sea Express,” and it’s allowing for timely intermodal shipments of all the containerized cargo from Piraeus Port. Before this service, shipments coming from Asia that wanted to access the interior of Central and Eastern Europe would have to go all the way around the European continent, berthing at a Port such as Hamburg or Rotterdam. This could add to an extra week or more to transit times. This inefficient model has been swiftly outclassed by the new Central Europe Land-Sea Express service.
Working our way from Piraeus Port north the schedule for the express intermodal services is as follows: Bulgaria and Serbia, 1-2 days; Romania, 2-3 days; Czech, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, 3-4 days; and Poland, Germany, 4-5 days. Shipments have the option of being transported by rail or truck, depending on the needs and location of the consignee.
COSCO Shipping Lines executives and other Chinese officials in previous interviews have said they want to develop the port into a logistics center that will move goods intermodally to Eastern Europe. However, these plans comprise more than just physical connections, they aim to create the world’s largest platform for economic cooperation; including policy, trade, financing, social, and cultural collaboration. These efforts look to usher in a new era of unified strength and to create prosperity for all involved.