Charges for 18 in Greek tug and pilot cartel investigation

An investigation into alleged cartel activity at two major Greek ports has left 18 people facing charges for activity linked to cartel operations.

Eighteen individuals, including shipowners, are facing charges as a wide-ranging investigation gets underway linked to cartel operations in the ports. Authorities have suspended six pilots at Greece’s two major ports, Piraeus and Thessaloniki. Also suspended was the harbour master of Thessaloniki and the chief pilot in Piraeus.

The Shipping and Island Policy Ministry revealed their suspension on October 2nd after reports of the investigation were leaked to the media.

Athens News Agency (ANA) reported four tug company owners are allegedly involved. None of the accused has been identified. There was no statement from the Greek police.

Pilots have been sent from Piraeus to ensure smooth operations in Thessaloniki.

A CMA-CGM-led consortium spent $254m on securing a 67% stake in the previously state-run authority. The consortium is planning further investments, including a container terminal to take 12,000 teu ships, up from the present 4,500 teu maximum.

Local reports from Thessaloniki claimed that  the alleged ring’s members were extorting bribes from shipping companies to ensure a smooth and timely ships’ approach. They also allegedly colluded to make ships employ tug boats unnecessarily to enter the port.

National media reports indicated that the probe began after complaints by a Thessaloniki tug company, which competitors forced out of business. Pilots acting with tug owners and port officers are said to have been fixing prices and abusing safety rules in order to increase employment time.

Thessaloniki Port Authority said that “no matter how this specific case will conclude, the way in which port navigation is conducted in our country needs to be reviewed”.

The alleged cartel was reported to have been discovered by a new internal affairs unit within Greek police. Local reports indicated that the investigation was focusing on small gas carriers approaching the nearby refinery of Hellenic Petroleum.

Pilots in the Cosco-controlled Piraeus port were reported to have had their laptops and other records investigated. The chief pilot of Piraeus has been suspended under suspicion of violating article 169 of Greece’s criminal code, the Shipping Ministry said.

The investigation came to light as the state sell-off fund was moving ahead on the future utilization of another 10 regional ports, after appointing new administrations to the port authorities of Volos, Kavala, Igoumenitsa, Corfu and Alexandroupoli.