Time to bring the boats home

Greek-owned ocean-going shipping is the largest in the world, accounting for more than 16 percent of global tonnage. Paradoxically, however, the country’s service industry to shipping is only minimally developed, as any visitor to the biennial Poseidonia Exhibition in Piraeus will easily notice, since about 80 percent of the pavilions, including the most important ones, belong to foreign firms of banks, insurers, brokers, registers, arbitrators, lawyers and other professions connected to shipping services. This part of the industry accounts for hundreds of thousands of highly paid jobs worldwide and is a major foreign-currency earner in the countries where it is developed; London’s segment of the industry has an estimated annual turnover of $2 billion. Greece’s deficiency in this sector has not been adequately looked into by the Merchant Marine Ministry. It can also be seen as the fallout of the failure by successive governments to attract more of the estimated 2,500 Greek-owned vessels flying foreign flags onto the Greek Shipping Register. Minister Giorgos Anomeritis is aware that for this to happen, the register needs to be competitive. He has shown a strong interest in the issue but seems to shy away from the appropriate measures. One ought to be mindful that Cyprus and Malta will accede to the European Union next year and their already attractive registers will become even more competitive. Governments and politicians come and go and public opinion remains incurably fluid. Merchant shipping comes to the fore only when there is a shipping accident, especially when it causes a coastline to be polluted. Public opinion is largely formed by such incidents; few people grasp the huge import that the colossal shipping industry has on our daily lives. After every such accident, the politicians will be prone to announce measures supposedly making ships unsinkable. But this is serious business; it even concerns mainland farmers, for the country needs foreign currency to buy tractors. It is time shipping policy is pulled out of the shallows of politics.

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