ECONOMY

Officer-training establishment represents iceberg for shipping

In contrast to its big sister, oceangoing shipping, which has long flourished without any heavy-handed government intervention, coastal shipping often finds itself in heavy weather, struggling to stay afloat. Greek oceangoing shipping is the largest in the world, accounting for 18 percent of world tonnage with about 4,000 vessels, mainly thanks to the free partnership between employers and seamen. There are two deadly enemies to free enterprise – populism and the «political-petty party» political cost. Many a time the State, under political pressure, has bailed out an ailing enterprise, without, in the end, solving the problem and, more often, causing damage to the taxpayers and democracy. Oceangoing shipping has never asked for such favors from the State – which was not in any position to grant them anyway. Its two pillars have always been the Greek shipowner and his officers. This second pillar is now in need of attention, the result of officer training having come under the influence of state-supported union lobbyists. The Greek merchant navy officer corps now counts 18,000 active members. But these are insufficient in number and training, as about 1,000 retire every year, while less than 500 enter the profession. The only source of renewal is the Merchant Navy Academies (MNA), where study courses take only 22.5 months, in contrast to other university courses which require between four and six years. The Constitution also lays down that tertiary education, of which MNAs are considered a part, cannot last less than three years. To help meet this minimum requirement level, MNA graduates are credited with sea service of at least 12 months. Another problem is that MNAs attract young people who wish to gain a tertiary qualification that can help them find other kinds of employment and do not intend to follow a career at sea. Unfortunately, there are no statistics regarding how many MNA entrants manage to graduate, nor how many of those that do pursue careers in the merchant navy. So it appears that the State pretends to be offering university-level education while students pretend to be studying to be merchant navy officers. The system seems to favor statism and the various lobbies it serves, including the teaching staff at MNAs, but not merchant shipping. The present merchant marine minister, Giorgos Anomeritis, seems full of good intentions, ready to shake off the inertia of many years, but, as Oscar Wilde said, «The road to hell is paved with good intentions.» The ministry has adopted a series of half-measures designed to boost the competitiveness of Greek shipping, and is now said to be preparing a draft bill with radical and bold changes in officers’ training, enabling experienced seamen to qualify for higher posts without having to go through the full tertiary education. Other reports say the «establishment» is reacting again…