Hellenic Shipping News interviews Mr. Antonis Venieris, CEO of Veniers Group
With the port of Piraeus reopening its doors today, after workers’ agreed on Saturday to end their strike which lasted more than two weeks, problems (besides containers) have been piling up. Hellenic Shipping News interviews Mr. Antonis Veniers,
CEO of Venieris Group, which is comprised of Venieris Maritime S.A., which is the agent of Senator Lines in Hellas, VenMar Shipping Agencies S.A. which is the agent of Hanjin Shipping, Venus Mare d.o.o. which is based in Koper, Slovenia and Cosmos Ocean Shipping and Forwarding Ltd, a freight forwarding company in Thessaloniki.
Still, problems at the port remain, since it will take almost four days to clear the backlog at the port. For the time being, a “truce” of two weeks has been granted, during which period talks will be held in order to review the concession agreement with Cosco. The agreement with port workers was forged after Minister of Economy, Competitiveness and Shipping, Mrs. Louka Katseli informed unions that the Port Authority (OLP) has reached a deal with Cosco, under which OLP will be the one issuing invoices for the next 15 days in the container terminal. During this time, intense negotiations are to take place, with unions already being asked to bring their proposals to the table of discussion.
What problems did you have to face after the strike at the port, which lasted for more than two weeks?
Already, three ships servicing the new line set up by Cosco, Hanjin, Yang Ming and Kline have unloaded in Port Said of Egypt, which means that costs have been increased, as these containers will have to be shipped either in Astakos port in the West of Hellas, or in Thessaloniki. Another impact of the strike is in the exports department, where many containers are stuck in Piraeus. Some of them have expiring letters of credit, while others have very specific delivery schedules. But, those who are exporting foods and similar products towards the USA and Canada are facing the biggest problems, since they have to combat two factors, the constant rise of the euro against the dollar and the fact that they can’t ship their containers. This means they are losing deadlines and their credibility towards their customers is diminished. The most serious consequence is that this is happening for the second time.
Were you better prepared to deal with this latest strike, after facing similar and maybe even more serious problems in the recent past?
What’s comforting is that this time around the port of Thessaloniki remained open. This meant that there was an “escape valve” for cargoes. As for companies and agents I wouldn’t say they were actually that much prepared. What most of them have done, was to cut back personnel and operating costs, a sad process that took place last year, after the previous strikes and hasn’t been changed until today.
Have you calculated your losses in earnings and cargoes as a result of the strike?
About 400 imports related containers and 250 export related containers are stuck in the port after just 15 days of strikes. This translates to losses of 35%-40% of our earnings for the relevant period. What’s positive is that our group also is representing two feedering companies in Thessaloniki, MCL (Metz Container Lines) and UFS (United Feeder Services). Luckily this business has kept on operating, offsetting losses from other sectors, related to the port of Piraeus.
How did Hanjin react to the new strike in Piraeus?
Hanjin’s officials are very skeptical as to how this situation will evolve. The reason is that the company has invested into a new line, scheduled to begin servicing Piraeus in the 31st of October, when the first vessel will approach the port. This service is also a product of cooperation between Cosco, Yang Ming Lines and K-Line, with Hanjin participating with two of its own container ships. The group is afraid of this new line’s prospects after these latest mobilizations. The service will make its maiden port of call in Pier II of the port, as Pier I is currently undergoing expansion works.
How does this situation with the constant fear of strikes affect Piraeus Port’s competitiveness towards other ports?
The biggest threat comes from the fact that the country’s major ports are in danger of permanently being deleted from any future plans to introduce new container services in the broader Mediterranean region. After all, the fact that the previous strike lasted for 14 months is a paradox on its own. This latest strike, although short lived, further damaged things.
Can the port of Astakos act as a means of decongesting the port of Piraeus in times of crises?
No, I don’t think this can be achieved, because of very specific particularities. The port has the proper infrastructure, but it can’t operate on a permanent basis, because of customs issues and connection with the mainland. At the time being its more expensive to handle container through Astakos. In fact, it’s cheaper to do this through Thessalonica.
How do judge the port workers’ demands?
Every demand in a democracy is fair, as long as it doesn’t brutally affect the survival of hundreds of companies, as well as the future of their employees. A certain degree of labor solidarity must be forged, as in a whole we are talking about thousands of employees.
How did big container lines react after the recent reopening of the port of Piraeus in March?
Immediately the companies brought their ships back to the port. This was a token of a major effort undergone by ship agents to reclaim the lost trust and confidence back to the port and the country in general. We did what was humanly possible and achieved to bring the ships back to the port.
Do you think that Cosco’s operation in the port of Piraeus will boost fortunes?
Definitely and this applies not only to Cosco, but any major conglomerate which intends to invest and increase business in a port. After all, Piraeus is a transit port, with local trade volumes being something of a given, with no major alterations from time to time. Cosco has the ability to reinstate Piraeus’ lost transshipment volumes in the Mediterranean. The port was the top destination for transshipment cargoes in the region until 2003. Today it is lagging behind ports in Italy, Turkey, Malta and Egypt.
What’s your opinion regarding the abolition of the Ministry of Mercantile Marine?
I think that a ministry on its own doesn’t mean anything. If the new structure of the ministry, under the Economy and Competitiveness, is translated into increased productivity, then things will be better. Of course, traditionally as a nation and with the legacy we have in shipping, we were used to having an autonomous ministry, because it signified the importance of shipping for the country.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide