Opposition parties and unions on Tuesday called for Transport Minister Marios Demetiades to resign over the many problems that have arisen at Limassol port since its operation was taken over by the private company, Eurogate.
The minister drew the ire of workers’ unions and opposition parties following his claims on Monday that machinery at the port had been vandalised prior to January 29, the date of the handover to the private operator.
Speaking to state broadcaster CyBC on Tuesday, Demetriades stood by his earlier statements on vandalism, which, he said, were based on information from the management of the Cyprus Ports Authority (CPA).
This, however, does not mean the delays of the last few weeks since Eurogate took over are justified, he added.
“I do not in any way justify the company for the delays. We expected that it would deal with the problems sooner,” Demetriades said.
As regards the alleged vandalism, Demetriades said he has already asked the CPA to investigate.
Commenting on reactions against his statement, he said that he was only “making a general comment to show that some things happened, one of which was this”. The acts of vandalism were made by some employees of the licensed porters, he added.
Demetriades said the damage would not cost millions to fix but meant that “one or two machines were not operable”.
“What’s important now is for the service of ships,” he said. Eurogate, he added, has set as a goal 1,000 containers per day by the end of the 30-day transitional period agreed on Saturday, following President Nicos Anastasiades’ intervention. During the CPA’s administration, the average number of containers processed was 600.
The company, he said, has ordered additional machinery and is fixing the existing ones.
Diko head Nicolas Papadopoulos, during a visit to the port on Tuesday, called for the resignation of Demetriades over the mess following the handover.
“If I were the transport minister, I would have already resigned,” Papadopoulos said. He added that the government chose to exclude the competent authority, the CPA, from negotiations with private investors.
“They chose direct negotiation of contracts and the result of this decision is chaos, delays and losses in the millions,” Papadopoulos said.
The administrations of former presidents Tassos Papadopoulos and Demetris Christofias, he said, had managed without any problems “the more complex cases of the airports”, while the current government has managed to “close the port through mismanagement and wrong handlings”.
The head of Edek affiliated workers’ union Deok, Diomidis Diomidous, dismissed Demetriades’ statements on vandalism and said that the equipment the government bought from the licensed porters, for €28m, and which Eurogate was called to operate “was like scrapyard junk”.
He said when he asked the minister following the purchase why he paid the porters €28m for the scrapyard junk they sold him, he received “no serious answer”.
The government, he added, paid the 32 licensed porters €28m for that equipment while it gave the around 60 employees of these porters, in total, €1.5m in compensation.
“Today, without a second thought he (Demetriades) is slandering employees of the porters who are now mostly unemployed, saying they have vandalised [the equipment]. No one has the right, not even a minister, to voice such accusations against a group of workers, instead of reporting names to the police,” Diomidous said. “As long as he does not do this, we have the right to call him a slanderer”.
Diomidous said that Demetriades made a mess at the port and ought to hand in his resignation to the president.
He added that the workers had previously refused several times to operate the equipment, which due to its bad shape, was considered as dangerous.
Representative of the licensed porters Andreas Prastitis refuted Diomidous’ claims about the equipment. The machinery was sold to the CPA in August 2015, he said. “That ‘scrapyard junk’ was fully operable until January 29”.
Akel parliamentary spokesman Giorgos Loukaides called on the government and Demetriades to assume their responsibilities and stop the blame game.
Operations at the port are slowly returning to normalcy following the agreement achieved on Saturday between Eurogate and other stakeholders for a 30-day adjustment period to allow the former to introduce measures to help resolve problems. A committee has also been set up to monitor daily progress and which will update the president.