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  • The port of Piraeus is one of the largest in the Mediterranean, and sees 25 million tons of cargo annually.

    The port of Piraeus is one of the largest in the Mediterranean, and sees 25 million tons of cargo annually. | Photo: Reuters

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Greece may have quietly backtracked on a decision to keep the port of Piraeus in public hands.

The Greek government will go ahead with the controversial sale of Greece's largest sea port, according to reports Thursday.

Three companies have been invited to re-submit bids for the port of Piraeus, according to an anonymous official cited by Reuters.

If accurate, this would mean the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has quietly reversed one of its more decisive policies since coming to power. In late January, the Tsipras government said it planned to keep a majority share in the port as part of “a strategic move to reconstruct the country's productive apparatus.”

According to the official that spoke to Reuters, the government now hopes to complete the sale of the port between September and October.

“It will be for (a stake of) 51 percent with an option to reach 67 percent in five years if they invest 300 million euros,” the official said.

The move is likely to be welcomed by Greece's lenders including the European Union and International Monetary Fund, which have pressed for large asset sales as part of loan deals.

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The decision could also be given a nod of approval by China, which expressed frustration when Tsipras first announced the port sale would be halted.

One of the bidders for a majority stake is Chinese shipping firm Cosco Group. Since the firm secured a 35 year concession to administer two of the port's container terminals in 2008, Beijing has eyed the port as a key strategic asset in the region.

In June 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang described Piraeus as “a Chinese gateway to Europe.”

The port is one of the largest in the Mediterranean, and sees 25 million tons of cargo annually. It's also a major passenger port, catering to ferries that transport millions of tourists each year to Greece's holiday islands.

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