This podcast is part of the serie FRICTIONS. It contains interviews recorded in June and July 2020, with: Dimitra Vini (Όχι λιμάνι στην Πειραϊκή), Thanos Pallis (University of the Aegean), Georgios Balias (Layer defending Piraeus resident).
Following the 2008 financial crisis and the 2015 EU bailout, the Greek government agreed to privatize a number of state-held assets, including the Piraeus Port Authority. In 2016, COSCO, China’s state-controlled shipping group, bought a 51% stake in Piraeus Port Authority, taking over port management. In summer 2021 COSCO obtained another 16% stake. COSCO declared the intention to turn Piraeus into an important transit hub between Asia and Europe, another node along the new maritime Silk Road. The port is now scheduled for expansion.
The latest master plan presented by the COSCO-controlled Piraeus Port Authority (PPA) intends to expand westwards of Piraeus to make space for a fourth container terminal, a new cruise terminal (funded by the EU), a large shopping center, and a car terminal. The plan was approved without undergoing the strategic environmental impact assessments. The planned expansion is encroaching on the space of communities in different ways and is deeply contested by various groups located in five areas around the port: Piraiki, Perama, Drapetsona, Keratsini and Salamina.
As well as spatial encroachment, local communities are concerned about their own health, as the expansion of freight traffic coming and the new cruise terminal will increase air and water pollution. Port workers are also protesting the expansion, due to the increased precarisation of work contracts and reduced health and safety conditions.
New shipyards are also planned, entering in conflict with already existing ones. One of the new shipyards – aimed at ship scraping (an illegal activity in the EU) is also planned to be constructed in the ancient bay of Salamina, an archeological area recognized as category A (same as the Acropolis).
Citizens of Piraiki (the largest municipality of the five that surround the port) are particularly concerned about the construction of six new cruise ship piers (next to the 11 already existing). This would mean an increase in the already strong atmospheric, water, sound and light pollution, besides the environmental damage caused by seabed dredging in a very populated area, and extremely close to the schools and homes. The local beach – one of the few public spaces of Piraiki, of very popular use – will be destroyed.
During the phase of dredging, 293,000 cubic meters of mud were disposed at sea, with permission by the Greek authorities, as legally dredging spoils are not treated as potentially hazardous waste. The chemical analysis of the mad has revealed a high concentration of mercury and other heavy metals, at levels harmful to public health (1).
A further reason for the dispute is the risk to the archeological site (the Tomb of Themistokles) which is part of the new marked area for the new cruise terminal.
Citizens are also apprehensive about the potential impacts coming from a dramatic increase of tourism that could be brought by the new cruise terminal, both in terms of socio-economic transformations and the pollution caused by buses going back and forth from Piraeus to the famous Acropolis site, less than an hour away.
The Environmental Impact Study submitted by theport authority in 2011 for the extension of the port, has been carried out without the public consultation process.
Citizens’ groups have been organizing public gatherings and marches since 2016, rejecting the proposed transformation of the port and the surrounding territory and its consequences on their daily lives. They are reclaiming their right to coastal sea spaces and local economies as well as the right to decent public health. Residents have been organizing fundraising events in order to get lawyers to bring COSCO to court. The lack of a strategic EIA for the masterplan, and the dumping of toxic material into the sea, are the main reasons why these lawyers are demanding to interrupt the works of construction. The request was accepted by the court in 2020, with construction work temporarily interrupted.
Among the various strategies of resistance adopted by residents is the creation of the Observatory of Piraeus: a spontaneous collective system of environmental monitoring.
Francesca Savoldi is a human geographer. She is a postdoctoral researcher at TU Delft and the founder of ContestedPorts.