Wednesday, August 7, 2013

It is now official. The board of China Cosco Holdings (Cosco) has confirmed the retirement of Captain Wei Jiafu as its chairman is for "reasons of age". The directors retired Wei, 63, with effect from July 16, some three weeks after rumours the energetic captain was leaving China's largest shipping group after some 15 year at its helm.
However, just a few weeks earlier, it was all smiles when Wei flew out of Greece at the end of June, a visit which turned out to be his international swan song.  He had helped make Greek Prime minister Antonis Samaras' day 26 June, when he disclosed the Chinese giant is set to invest some Euro600m ($790m) in a bid to turn Piraeus into the Mediterranean's leading container port. An MoA was signed 27 June.
After days of political turmoil which culminated in Samaras undertaking a sweeping cabinet reshuffle, the PM and Greece received the boost when Cosco inaugurated its second container terminal in Piraeus – 18 months ahead of schedule -- immediately creating 500 new jobs. Up to 3,000 people will ultimately be employed by Cosco if Piraeus and the Chinese group achieve their goal of lifting the Greek port into Europe's top five box handlers.
Standing beside Samaras in the warm Greek sun and cutting the ribbon at terminal III, Greece knew Wei was a powerful ally.
Comfortable in the knowledge the long-time chairman of Cosco always kept his pledges towards Greece, Wei was bade farewell as he boarded his plane for the flight home.
While the statement revealing Wei's replacement mentioned age as the reason for the resignation, and the Communist Party sets a pro forma 60-year-old cap for top executives at state-owned companies, many in Greece pointed out his replacement, Ma Zehua is now 60.
In recent years Wei had become something of a champion for Greece, visiting the country a number of times and meeting with Samaras' predecessors, George Papandreou and Costas Karamanlis both in Athens and in China to discuss business cooperation.
He had a close relationship with several shipping people, especially the late Vassilis Constantakopoulos, founder of NYSE-listed Costamare Shipping. Wei and his wife were on hand in July 2006 when the Cosco Hellas, one of five 9,500 teu ships delivered in 2006 and chartered out for 12 years to Cosco Container Lines made its maiden call in Piraeus.
Wei was an extremely strong supporter of Cosco's 35-year concession struck late 2009 to run container terminals II and III in Piraeus as the Greek port set about becoming the hub for trade between Europe, the Near Middle East and North Africa and China.
Cosco has expressed interest in participating in the privatisation process of the Port of Piraeus, set to be completed by the end of the year. It says it will take part in the process, if the government choses to divest the Piraeus Port Authority's majority 74% stake, currently traded in the Athens Stock Exchange. Privatisation programme president, Stelios Stavridis, has said this is the goal together with a 30-40 year concession of the port's main activities.
Further, while in Greece, Wei had pledged he will encourage other Chinese companies to make investments in Greece.
With Cosco evolving from a strategic investor in Piraeus into a strategic ally of Greece, Wei went on to say a Chinese fund has already expressed interest in the old airport south of Athens, referring to the possibility of creating a resort along the lines of an artificial island-hotel located in Dubai.
He also expressed satisfaction with the support the Greek governments of the last decade have lent to the Chinese, highlightting his trust in the Greek authorities and entrepreneurs, and forecast "Greece will be the first country to emerge from the crisis".
Indeed, Wei's enthusiasm for Greece was appreciated with great fondness, and there is a hope Wei Jiafu's active career is not yet over, Greece's door is always open.

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