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Can Greece maintain its Global Dominance in Shipping?

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Thanassis Martinos, Managing Director, Eastern Mediterranean Limited, George Gourdomichalis, President and Managing Director, G Bros Maritime SA, Philip Pangalos, Vasilis Bacolitsas, Director, Sea Pioneer Shipping Corporation, Harry Vafias, President and CEO, StealthGas

“Can Greece maintain its global dominance in shipping?” was the subject of a special conference held by Economia Business Tank and Business File at the Piraeus Port Authority’s conference hall. This event gathered leading personalities from the Greek and international shipping community, business leaders as well as students with an eye on tomorrow. All in all, over 350 delegates witnessed one of the best ever evenst of its kind down-town Akti Miaouli, a great success for Alexandra C. Vovolini, President of the Economia Group.

In a round table discussion panel coordinated by Philip Pangalos, editor-in-chief of BUSINESS FILE, Athens correspondent of THE SUNDAY TIMES, THE TIMES, and Vice President of the Foreign Press Association in Athens, some Greece’s most prominent ship owners and managers openly answered questions from the floor and offered their insight into the future of Greek shipping as well ways that shipping can lead Greece out of the crisis.

Thanassis Martinos from Eastern Mediterranean Ltd proposed the creation of a European registry. He argued that given the adoption of the tonnage tax regime similar to that of Greece by countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, with the initiative of the major European maritime nations, a European flag can be established allowing a chioce between a national or European flag, without a regime change.

George Gourdomichalis from G Bros Maritime SA voiced his strong opposition to any proposed changes in the way shipping is currently taxed in Greece. He was also concerned about the lack of interest in shipping from Greece’s unemployment-stricken youth, even from a majority of current maritime study students, of whom, he said, only 15% want to pursue a career at sea.

These thoughts were echoed by Vassilis Bacolitsas from Sea Pioneer Shipping Co, who added that any intervention by the state would likely ignore the particularities of shipping.

Harry Vafias from StealthGas outlined a number of problems affecting the key sector including falling freight rates, liquidity problems, disputes with charterers, as well as the economic and political crisis and uncertainty in Greece and Europe. However, his main concern was the reluctance of young people, despite rising unemployment, to come into the marine profession despite the face that very high relative salaries are on offer.

The audience included many students from the Maritime Department of the University of Piraeus, who had the opportunity to ask questions such as: “What would be the role of a Ministry of Mercantile Marine?” or “What is the role of shipping in this time of crisis?”

The round table highlighted a few key points:

• A revision in the law regarding the national composition of a ship’s crew
• For sailors, recognising the years served on a non-Greek flagged and counting them towards their years of service.
• A recognition that even in a time of crisis, shipping is resilient and has not seen layoffs.
• That shipbuilding could return to special economic zones such as Perama, creating shipbuilding hubs similar to those in Turkey or Italy, if they are not undermined by trade unions.

With regard to shipping companies leaving Greece, Thanassis Martinos commented: “Whatever government comes into power, it won’t change shipping, logic will prevail.” George Gourdomichalis said “whatever government comes into power, the problem is that no government will come into power, that it follows a European path. He also reminded the words of a past prime minister: “Ships have propellers and can leave”. The conference also heard that Greece’s shipping industry accounts of more than 202, 000 jobs and 140 billion euros in foreign exchange earnings over the past decade.

Vassilis Bacolitsas also noted that if there is a change in the shipping regime, he, like many other ship owners, would simply move his base to other jurisdictions, but didn’t foresee a mass move.

Harry Vafias meanwhile said that some companies have already asked their staff if they were willing to move if their company moved base to the likes of Dubai or Singapore, with a majority saying that they are willing to move.

H.E. the British Ambassador to Greece Dr. David Landsman, In his welcome address, the British ambassador to Greece Dr. David Landsman (pictured on the left) talked about the traditional ties Greek shipping has with London, pointing to the resilience and adaptability, which makes shipping – even through the crisis – an industry that not only survives but makes its own future. Thanks to its excellence and absolute openness to the international market, London continues to show promise, he said.

The President of the Hellenic-British Chamber Harry Ikonomopoulos also spoke out, saying that “in recent years, Greece is a boat where the steering wheel does not control the rudder: now the ship is sinking. We have no choice but to sharply reduce the predator Greek state on those who create wealth and leave them to work unhindered in order to bring prosperity, which will in turn help those less fortunate and those in need.”

Athanasios Reisopoulos, Vice President of the Germanischer Lloyd, George Xiradakis, Managing Director of XRTC Business Consultants, and Secretary General of the Union of Banking and Financial Executives of Greek Shipping, Apostolos Belokas, Managing Director of IBS Marine Group, Vassilis Mantzavinos, General Manager of Unicredit Bank AG Group in Greece

Athanasios Reisopoulos from Germanischer Lloyd covered the issue of “green” shipping. With technical measures, new technologies, organisational initiatives and using market methods, shipping seeks to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 80% by 2050. While the interest in the environment is playing a role, the rising cost of fuel is leading the debate!

Greece-China maritime relations was the subject of a talk by George Xiradakis from XRTC Business Consultants, who reminded the audience that 60% of crude and 50% of imports of Chinese dry cargo is carried by Greek-owned ships, and the presence of Cosco Piraeus shows the importance of these relations, even during the crisis. Starting as early as the 1940s, Greek ships broke the West’s embargo on China leading to the 70s when Greek shipowners were among the few allowed to charter ships to transport Chinese goods. From the 80s Greeks began building ships in Chinese yards. Gradually, the Greek orders at Chinese shipyards amounted to 17 billion dollars. Hence the Greek-China Shipping Development Fund (5 billion U.S. dollars).
Apostolos Belokas from IBS Marine Group spoke on the area of security and recommended caution. He also spoke on the major international agreements – SOLAS / MARPOL / STCW / MLC – which have created a strict framework of safety and environmental protection.

Vassilis Mantzavinos, of Unicredit spoke on the issue of ship financing and that the situation is particularly difficult. Profitability is no longer driving the market, now it is liquidity and capital adequacy, which are conditions of survival. Prior to the crisis, funding would come from European banks but this has now changed. There is a widespread decline in funding. Only part of shipping’s financing needs are covered by the Chinese, Korean and Japanese markets and this is an effort to keep their yards alive.

Harry Ikonomopoulos, co-President of the British-Hellenic Chamber of Shipping

Worth noting that just a couple of former politicians attended, many academics, shipowners and University students,  the event was under the auspices British-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and  the Union of Banking and Financial Executives of Greek Shipping and supported by:

  • Arcadia Shipmanagement Co. Ltd.
  • Eastern Mediterranean Maritime LTD.
  • Germanischer Lloyd
  • Laskaridis Shipping Company LTD
  • N. Leventeris S.A.
  • Thenamaris Ships Management INC.
  • Transmar Shipping Co. SA

a full house underlying the importance of this gathering!

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