INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MARITIME ECONOMISTS
1996 International Conference Vancouver, B.C., Canada June 26 – 28 1996
THE EFFICIENT PRICING POLICY OF A PORT CONTAINER TERMINAL (P.C.T.): THE CASE STUDY OF THE PORT OF PIRAEUS BY Y.S. LAINOS AND A. PARDALIS
UNIVERSITY OF PIRAEUS. DEPARTMENT OF MARITIME STUDIES
The participation of the authors at the conference was financially supported by the Research Center of the University of Piraeus
Due to rapid technological change, the cost of a container terminal infrastructure has today dramatically increased and it covers a substantial part of the total operational cost. The subject related to that cost and the pricing policy applied by the port authorities, affects not only the microeconomic index of the port’s profitability, but also simultaneously the macroeconomic indices.
Moreover it affects the cost of container terminal services for the domestic customers (users) and the port’s international competitiveness. The question “who will pay” arises nowdays as a crucial one. The Port of Piraeus (P.O.P.) is a “comprehensive port” and one of the major ports of the Eastern Mediterranean. Its container terminal (C.T.) traffic covers today 76% of the total container traffic in Greek ports. This traffic gives the port a monopolistic position for its hinterland market. The remaining 24% of its traffic concerns the competitive Mediterranean market of transhipment. The construction of P.O.P.C.T. (Ikonion) started basicaly in 1981 and its extension is still under construction.
The period of our study, therefore, starts in 1981 and terminates in 1994; it is the period for which the Port Authorities provide data. Up to 1994 and according to its published balance sheet, P.O.P. was profitable. Its investments were self financed.
However, our research detected an irrational cost structure and a pricing policy which does not corresponds to the cost.
The authors’ contribution is :
- The investigation whether the implemented pricing policy fulfilled the objectives of the P.O.P.C.T. based on “the economic principle”.
- The approach with regard to the cost of the P.O.P.C.T., although there is no cost accounting system at P.O.P.
- The proposals for a P.O.P.C.T. pricing policy orientated towards an efficient fulfilment of the objectives under the existing conditions.
Our proposals can be used accordingly by any Container Terminal which faces similar problems as those of the P.O.P.C.T.
Pricing policy is one of the management’s tools for an efficient fulfilling of the objectives of the business plan. According to the theory, the price strategies are distinguished into two main categories (1 – 9) (Figure 1):
1) Those which are based on demand. These are subdivided to:
- Competition pricing. The port prices are formed equal to or lower than the competitive port(s). These prices are based on the demand price elasticity.
- Users benefits.
- The ability of users to pay.
2) Those which are based on cost. These are subdevised to the:
- Average long term cost. It is applied when the objective of the port is the revenue-expenses equalization.
- Marginal cost. When the objective of the port’s management is the maximization of the profits, then the price is equalized with the marginal revenue. When the objective of the port is the optimum allocation of the productive factors, then the marginal cost is equalized with the price.
- Average variable cost.
- Congestion cost.
Our research is orientated:
- to the examination whether the applied pricing policy, fulfilled efficiently the objectives of the P.O.P.C.T.,
- to the determination of the relationship between the applied pricing policy and the cost of production of the container terminal services – especially taking into account the infrastructure’s share in the total cost.
- to the presentation of an efficient pricing policy in a port container terminal like the major Greek port of Piraeus.
Although one of the main objectives of the pricing policy applied by the P.O.P., was the port’s investments self financing, during our investigation it was found that the depreciation of the investments for the quay, berths and buildings especially those of the container terminal, are not included in the official P.O.P.’s accounting data.
Another element that affects the objectivity of the P.O.P.’s financial position is that its profits have been exempted from taxation by law. It is obvious that this choice is an indirect state subsidization of the P.O.P. According to international bibliography, subsidization is not desirable any more, mainly for two reasons: “The first is that it involves emloying a nation’s resources where their marginal social productivity is lower instead of where it is higher, and second is that an unknown part of the benefits will go to people who live elsewhere”.(10,11,12)
The lack of a cost accounting system at P.O.P. must be pointed out.
2.Port of Piraeus. The existing situation.
2.1 Ownership status.
The Port of Piraeus (P.O.P.) is basically a “comprehensive port” (13,14 ) and one of the major ports of the Eastern Mediterranean. It consists of three zones: the main port (passengers and grains), the commercial port (general cargo) and the container terminal. As an individual organization, the P.O.P. has been established by law since 1930 and it is subject to the control of the Ministry of shipping. Its administration and management has been exclusively assigned to the Piraeus Port Authorities.
The president and the general manager are appointed by the government. The composition of the members of the Board of Directors includes representatives from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of shipping, the users, the Athens and Piraeus Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the shippers, the shipowners, the Piraeus Unions Council, the employees of the port, the chief of the Piraeus Port Police etc.
The composition of the P.O.P.’s Board of Directors gives finally to the government, the privilege of controlling the management of the port.
2.2 A Brief approach to the Financial Position.
For a wider understanding of P.O.P.C.T.’s pricing policy, we consider that a brief approach to it’s financial position is necessary. According to the official annual reports (1981-1994), P.O.P. is permanent profitable.
However it must be underlined that during our investigation it was found that :
- according to the established law, P.O.P. has been exempted from the income taxes.
- the depreciation of the investments for the quays, berths and buildings mainly of the container terminal, are not included even in the published P.O.P.’s accounting data.
The aforementioned choices give a financial position of the port quite different than the official one. We calculated that if taxes and nfrastructure’s depreciation were included in the P.O.P.’s official annual financial results, then the decrease of these results fluctuates from 16. 8% to 1,855%.
Since 1993, a decrease in the P.O.P.’s annual revenues appears. This is due to the loss of a great portion of warehouse revenues for goods imported from the European Union (E.U.) due to the complete abolition of tariffs between Greece and E.U. That decrease of P.O.P.’s revenues has not been substituted so far. (Figure 2)
2.2.2 Own and total capital
The relationship between own and total capital of P.O.P. shows a port’s level of dependence on its creditors, the degree of healthiness of its capital structure. During the period studied, that relationship fluctuates from 81% to
87% which is a quite satisfactory level
2.2.3 Return on Capital.
According to the P.O.P.’s published balance sheet, the capital return was fluctuated from 22% to 0.3 % following a declining trend. If, however, the infrastructure’s depreciation were included in these results, then the return on capital would fluctuate from 18.50% to 5.31% following a declining trend. Furthermore, if the proper taxes were included in these results, then the return on capital would fluctuate from 9.43 % to 5.31 %
Primarily, the main cause of the aforementioned low level and declining trend of capital return, is due to the absence of the applied pricing policy the objective of maximization of return on capital.
2.3 Source of investment’s financing.
Up to 1994, the financing sources for the port’s investments, were:
- a port’s reserve account in the Greek Central Bank. In this account which was established by law in 1954 and 1955, the Piraeus port authorirties are still obliged to deposit a percentage of the port’s annual revenues. The exclusive purpose of this account is financing the port’s investments. It must be pointed out that, up to 1987, this account was legally kept by the Central Bank without any interest. This regulation caused a substantial loss to the port of Piraeus.
- Since 1987, interest accrued from the port’s deposits in the Greek Central Bank.
- the port’s annual profits.
- Port of Piraeus’s Container Terminal (P.O.P.C.T.)
3.1. Demand – Supply. Market structure.
From 1981 to 1994, the container traffic of P.O.P.C.T. has increased by 275%. This impressive increase had been achieved from 1986 to 1992. Then, a stability appeared. A first cause of this stability is the intergration of the conversion of the conventional general cargo to containerized cargo. A second cause is the stability of the Greek economy (stability of imports and exports).
In 1994, a 80% of its traffic, concerns the country’s imports-exports volume. The remaining 20% of this traffic concerns the competitive international market of transhipment.
Today, the P.O.P.C.T. traffic covers a 76% of the total container traffic of Greece. The remaining 24% is covered by Salonika’s port.That traffic gives the P.O.P.C.T. a monopolistic position in its hinterland market
22.214.171.124. P.O.P.C.T.’s infrastructure.
Up to 1994 the container traffic at P.O.P. was covered by two different terminals located at two different areas. The older one, called “Vassiliadis” terminal, was located at the central port and was well organized. It was covering a 25% of the total P.O.P.’s container traffic with almost 100% occupancy of its infrastructure capacity.
But its inadequate depth and it’s inefficient connection with the land transport network, forced the port authorities, in 1994, to transfer this terminal to “Ikonion” area where the second -under expansion- new terminal is located.
The construction of the new P.O.P.C.T. (Ikonion) started basically at 1981 and it is still under expansion. This is the reason that the period of our research started in 1981.Today, the dimensions of the Piraeus port containers terminal are:
- a) quays length 700 meters
- b) depth 5 – 16.5 meters
- b) total area 700,000 square meters
- c) covered area 20,000 square meters
- d) gantry cranes 6
- e) straddle carriers 50
|Number and age of cranes|
|1||22 years old|
|2||16 years old|
|2||7 years old|
|1||5 years old|
|4||expected in 1996 post panamax)|
|All are 40 tones Cranes|
With the commencement of the first discussions in the early 70’s, the problem which arised for the Port Authorities with regard to their orientation, was whether the P.O.P. container terminal development would be extensive or intensive. The basic consideration and the final choice of the P.O.P. authorities (members of P.O.P.’s board of directors including the represenatives of some users) was the extensive instead of intensive developement. It is obvious that the invesments for the land, berths, quays, cranes, surface transportation media and necessary personnel were orientated and planned according to that option.
The argument of the port authorirties for their choice was that P.O.P.C.T. needed to have an adequate infrastructure even for ships of the fifth generation (16.5 meters depth) to attract transhipment traffic from the other Mediterranean ports. It must be pointed out that such ships have never approached as yet P.O.P.C.T.
The P.O.P.C.T.’s occupancy has fluctuated (1981-1994) from 38% to 72%.
3.2. Brief approach to P.O.P.C.T. cost.
An elementary P.O.P.’s cost analysis was carried out in 1973. Since then, a cost accounting system (cost centers, cost allocation methods etc.). has not been introduced as yet. Consequently, there is no official cost accounting data available for the container terminal. Under these circumstances and for the approach with regard to the cost accounting of the container terminal, we constructed an adequate cost accounting system based on the existing financial accounting data. Our cost allocation methods are based on the existing operational structure and activities of the container terminal, as they have been recorded by the authors’ research.
3.2.1. Cost structure.
126.96.36.199. Labour cost.
The labour cost covers the greater portion of the total terminal’s cost.
It fluctuates from 45.73% to 67.35% of the total terminal’s annual cost. This higt share of labour cost is due to the high cost of dockers and to the inefficient organization and management systems, that forces the port authorities to employ more employees and workers than needed.
The high cost of the dockers is due to the existing institutional framework which is based on labour relations of the past, when dockers were paid according to the weight they carried. That weight now is basically carried by the cranes although the number of the dockers per crane and per shift remains almost stable, nine dockers and two foremen.
The proportion of the employees and dockers to the total number of personnel was 45% and 55% respectively in 1981, and 56% and 44% respectively in 1994. The total number of employees and workers has decreased by 48.74%. This is due to a decrease in the number of employees by 37% when the number of the dockers decreased by 59%.
The ratio between the average yearly expenses per docker and per clerk is two to one (2:1) with an increasing trend,
An authors questionnaire among the P.O.P.C.T. employees showed that only a 5% of them believe that the job qualification is objective
188.8.131.52. Depreciation cost
As mentioned above, the depreciation of the P.O.P.’s infrastructure (mainly that of the container terminal) is not included in the official balance sheet. The authors calculated this depreciation cost and included it in the terminal’s cost. The share of depreciation (including the terminal’s infrastructure as it was calculated by the authors) in the total annual cost of the container terminal was fluctuated from 21.72% to 37.78%
184.108.40.206. Overhead cost
The share of overhead expenses to the total annual cost of the container terminal was fluctuated from 1.18% to 10.28%
220.127.116.11. Maintenance and overhaul
The share of maintenance and overhaul to the total annual cost of the container terminal was fluctuated from 6.35% to 10.39%
3.3. P.O.P.C.T. cost – revenue – results.
Although our study period starts from 1981, the P.O.P.C.T. cost – revenue – results comparison starts from 1987, because there are no revenues data available from 1981 to 1986.
From 1987 to 1994 the terminal’s cost increased by 432%, the revenues were increased by 444% and the results (profits) by 170%. The declining trend of the profits is due to an increasing trend of the cost and an decreasing trend of the revenues since 1993
The share of the annual cost of the containers terminal (as it has been elaborated and calculated by the authors) to the total port’s annual cost has fluctuated from 19.4% to 36.8% (Figure 10).
The share of the annual revenues from the containers terminal to the total port’s revenues has fluctuated from 18.6% to 46.6%. From the aforementioned Figures, it is obvious that, in general, the container terminal
subsidizes the other activities of the port,
3.4. Source of financing
As mentioned above, the P.O.P.’s investments were self financed until 1994. But in 1995, due to the high level of the container’s terminal investments and the declining trend of its revenues, the port authorities decided to have a loan of about US$ 60 million, which means that, from 1996, there will be an additional cost for paying out the loan’s annual interests. In this respect, two crucial problems arise for the port authorities:
- Firstly, the cost of financing the investments for the container’s terminal infrastructure.
- Secondly, “who will pay” for the cost of the container’s terminal infrastructure.
The problem of the method as well as the duration for the depreciation of the infrastructure is included here. The solution that the Piraeus Port Authorirties will choose has now become a crucial one, because it directly affects the cost of the imported and exported products of the country (hinterland) and, generally, it affects the port’s containers terminal competitivenes in the wider area.
3.5. The pricing policy implemented.
The pricing policy implemented was not based on a P.O.P.’s actual cost analysis, since a cost accounting system has not been as yet introduced. The applied pricing policy was based on the budgetary estimated increase of the annual cost. The annual increase of the prices was calculated with the aim of covering this increase.
It is obvious that the applied policy in the P.O.P. container terminal was based partly on the average long term cost with the exception of taxes and the depreciation of the quays and the buildings.
The applied by the P.O.P.C.T.’s authorities pricing policy for the period 1981-1994 had the following objectives:
- to support the country’s exports (support the development of the national economy);
- to atract transhipment traffic;
- to have the port’s investment self financed;
- to support employment in the area and contribute to the area’s development.
The final annual increase of the prices of the P.O.P.C.T. services is subject to the approval of the State “Income and Prices” Committee. This Committee argues that it controls the increases of the prices in order to protect the National Economy from an undesirable increase in the inflation rate.
The applied pricing policy of P.O.P.C.T. during the period 1981-1994 is a differentiated one. The differentiation criteria used are:
- imported containers;
- exported containers;
- loaded containers;
- empty containers;
- 20 TEU’S, 40 TEU’S container;
- congestion cost.
In order to support the country’s export commerce (support the national economy’s development), the Port Authorities give discounts of about 35% to exported containers. In order attract an adequate transhipement traffic for sufficient occupancy of the existing investments, a discriminating pricing policy is implemented with regard to transhipment containers, through discounts from 30% to 60% according to the traffic volume per company.
It is obvious that the implemented pricing policy for both the aforementioned cases is below the cost. The loss, however, that is caused to the terminal from this undercosting pricing policy with regard to the exported containers is not substantial, because the share of export to the total traffic volume of P.O.P.C.T. is small.
On the contrary, the loss that is caused from the under cost pricing policy with regard to transhipment containers, can be considered as substantial, because the transhipment traffic volume fluctuates at more than 20% of the P.O.P.C.T. total traffic volume.
Despite the undercost pricing policy implemented in transhipment, the objective of the Port Authorities for attracting adequate transhipment traffic for a satisfactory occupancy of the infrastructure is not achieved. The reason for this is that the main criteria of the liner companies for selecting a port for their mother ships in the Mediterranean sea is not the prices of the port services but the distance of the particular port from their main routing. Piraeus Port is 175 km far from the main Mediterranean routing when Damietta, Algeciras and Malta lies on the main routing. This is the reason why the greater portion (up to 90%) of their traffic is transhipment (16)
It is obvious that – concerning the P.O.P.- the deviation cost for the fourh and fifth generation container ships is greater than any benefit coming from the port’s pricing policy implemented (discounts). In order to cover the losses from the under cost pricing policy at the transhipement, the Port Authorities relied on the port’s monopolistic position, applied an over cost pricing policy burden the imported containers and through them the Greek consumers of the particular goods.
3.6. P.O.P.C.T. Competitiveness.
3.6.1. Level of prices.
Despite its operational weaknesses, through its aforementioned great discounts the P.O.P.C.T. has achieved to become one of the cheapest terminals in the Mediterranean market of transhipment.
The average productivity of the P.O.P.C.T. fluctuates at about 140 containers per shift per crane. This level of productivity classifies the P.O.P.C.T. in the second position together with four other ports, among the twelve Mediterranean ports examined.
3.6.3. Quality of services.
The users evaluate the quality of the services rendered by the P.O.P.C.T. as unsatisfactory. Their complaints are mainly centered on the delays. The main causes for the delays are the bureaucracy and the inadequate maintenance and overhaul of the cranes due to which they are often out of order.
1) The Port of Piraeus has not applied any cost accounting system (cost centers, cost allocation methods etc.). Consequently, the Port Authorities cannot have any information about cost per operational activity or organizational unit. This ignorance prevents the Port Authorities from elaborating an effective pricing policy.
2) The Port Authorities argue that the pricing policy implemented with regard to the containers terminal, is based on the average long-term cost. Our research proved that the annual depreciation of the container terminal infrastructure is not included in the official annual cost. Moreover, if the Port Authorities decide to depreciate these investments according to the Greek law, then the P.O.P.C.T.’s average annual cost will appear substantially increased.
Furthermore, the P.O.P.’s profits have been exempted from taxation, which is an indirect state subsidy. It is obvious that, besides its monopolistic position, the P.O.P.C.T. applies a under cost pricing policy to the benefit of the users of the P.O.P.C.T. and the consumers of the particular goods.
3) The P.O.P.C.T. cost is burdened by the high labour cost due to the high cost of dockers and to the inefficient management which forces the Port Authorities to employ more clerks and dockers than needed.
4) The implementation of a pricing policy relied basically, on average cost (with the exception of taxation and infrastructures depreciation) combined with the absence of decision-making control mechanisms, burden the users with the cost of any decisions, efficient or not, taken by the port administration. The efforts of the top executives appointed by the government are not completely orientated to the port’s affairs but, at the same time, the executives are interested in their political career. This orientation affects the efficiency of their decisions on the developement of the Port.
5) The orientation of the Port Authorities, investment policy, is determined by the fact that they consider the P.O.P. can be transformed into a great transhipment center in the Eastern Mediterranean. However, the adaption of P.O.P.C.T. infrastructure to standards of fourth and fifth generation ships, does not correspond to any present or future demand, because of the port’s long distance from the main Mediterranean route from Gibraltar to Suez. Consequently, this orientation in the P.O.P.C.T. development, caused a substantial increase in its operational cost in all sectors (land, berths, quays, cranes, etc.) due to over-invesment. This cost is allocated to the present users of the terminal’s services (feeder ships) through a higher level of prices.
6) Finally, the pricing policy implemented in the P.O.P.C.T. is not effective since its objectives were not achieved:
- Despite the great discounts to the prices, the transhipment traffic has not -and, we think, cannot be- increased substantially, because the main motive for the mother ships, is not the level of the prices, but the port’s distance from their main routing. Through the discounts applied by the port Authorities, the Greek consumer subsidizes the liner shipping and the consumers in the countries of the final destination of the transhipment containers.
- The discounts concerning the exports do not have a substantial effect on their increase due to the monopolistic position of the port and the very low share of the transportation to the total cost.
- The surplus clerks and highly paid dockers adsord sosial resources ineffectively.
- Pricing policy is one of the tools of the management for the achievement of the objectives of the business plan.
- Efficient port pricing policy is the one that fulfills these objectives based on the economic principle. However a pricing policy cannot be efficient if it is based on an ineffective operation as a result of ineffective management, or when it is called to achieve arbitrary objectives and targets.
Consequently the necessary presupposition for an efficient pricing policy of the P.O.P.C.T. is it’s efficient operation. We present below the necessary measures for an effective operational framework of the P.O.P.C.T.
- The objectives of P.O.P.C.T. are determined by the ownership status and the monopolistic position to the hinderland (76% of the total Greek traffic).
Since the quality of P.O.P.C.T. management is directly affected by it’s ownership status, it could be argued that the change of this status is a neccesary presupposition for implementation of an effective management and for achieve efficient operation of the terminal.
- Efficient operation of the terminal is when the objectives and targets of it’s business plan are achieved within certain time limits based on the economic principle.
- A necessary presupposition for the achievement of the efficient operation of the P.O.P.C.T. avoiding the weaknesses of the traditional port, is it’s operational and managerial independence from the P.O.P. It could be P.O.P.’s affiliated company.
- The question arose is which ownership status can achieve effective management and efficient operation of the P.O.P.C.T. Both ownership status, the existing state monopoly and the private monopoly have weaknesses and strengths. We consider that the total privatization of the P.O.P.C.T. will have a positive affection on the effectiveness of terminal’s management. Simultaneusly however it will provoke the known undesirable negative results of the private monopoly because of the port’s monopolistic position to the hinderland. We think that the most effective ownership status for the P.O.P.C.T. is an interim.
- If we want to avoid labour turbulances, effective management can be introduced at the P.O.P.C.T. escalated.
- Under the existing ownership status is necessary the change of the institutional framework to be orientated to the:
- Implementation of an efficient cost accounting system,
- Implementation of Managerial Information System,
- The evaluation of the members of the board of directors and the other managerial structure has to be relied on achievement of the objectives and targets. The appointment of a person to a managerial position has to be based on his qualifications according to the job description,
- Introduction and implementation of mechanisms and procedures for evaluation of the efficiency of the choices of the board of Directors and of the Directors.
- For avoiding arbitrariness and subjective approaches of the terminals operation by the board of directors, the objectives of the port must be determined by a body in which the main participants would be the government the users and the employees.
- Rationalization of organizational structure adopting it to the operational needs of the P.O.P.C.T..
- Introduction and implementation of effective human resources management system based on Total Quality Management including the proper motivation system.
- Introduction of a flexible labour relations network. Decrease the number of dockers per crane and per shift (to 4 instead of 11 per crane per shift they are now).
- Adoption of the P.O.P.C.T. infrastructure investments to the estimated traffic (according to the market research and not to the arbitrary estimations).
- Intensive and not extensive development’ s orientation.
- Revision of pricing policy adopting it to the efficient achievement of the objectives and targets of the terminal.
An efficient however pricing policy has to be subject to the following restrictions:
- The objectives and targets must relied on the knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the port, and on the conclusions of the market research.
- Cross subsidization among Port’s facilities are not accepted because it transfers the cost of a certain facility to the user of another.
- Direct or indirect state subsidization to the Port’s facilities are not accepted because it employs social resources in sectors of which the productivity is lower than another sector they could be used.
- Consequently efficient pricing policy of a container terminal is the one which is mainly based on it’s cost production.
- Under the existing circumstances of the terminal operation, we think that the immediate introduction of all the aforementioned changes simultaneously will be not possible.
- In order to achieve an accelerated introduction of the changes, the private sector will have the possibility to be assigned the management of those terminal’s operations that it can supply them under better conditions (lower cost higher quality).
- The main criteria of the success of the management will be the level of fulfillment of the mutual agreed objectives based on the economic principle, into the agreed time limits.
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