Shipping, the economy booster, starts trickling home to register

The Greek merchant navy makes a major contribution to the country’s economy, similar to those of tourism and the EU investment subsidies from the Community Support Frameworks. Despite the unfavorable global economic climate, in the first 10 months of last year, it brought into the country 7.1 million euros in foreign exchange. Shipowners argue that a comprehensive policy to promote the entry of competent officers into the profession and adequate infrastructure would ensure the benefits would be much larger. According to a research study for 2000, commissioned by the Union of Greek Shipowners (EEE) and carried out by a team from the Athens University of Economics and Business headed by professor Yiannis Tzoannos, the gross added value brought in by the Greek merchant navy came to about 1,700 billion drachmas (5 billion euros), excluding the gross operational surplus created abroad, for which there was no statistical information. Of this amount, about 140 million euros represented the wage bill and employers’ social insurance contributions for employees in shipping offices in Greece, another 1.95 billion euros was the remuneration and insurance contributions for seamen, and about 2.90 billion euros was the gross added value contributed to the domestic sectors of economic activity. The overall sum represents 4.7 percent of the total gross added value of the economy in 2000. «In order to understand the full significance of this sum, note that the entire primary sector of the economy accounted for 7.6 percent of the total gross added value of the Greek economy and the manufacturing sector, 11.6 percent,» said a shipping official. According to data from the Bank of Greece, the foreign exchange generated by Greek shipping covered 20 percent of the country’s trade deficit in 2000. In the same year, EU transfers covered 18 percent. The wages of Greeks employed on oceangoing ships and in shipping offices, and the incomes created in Greece from the demand for goods and services by seamen and their families amounted to about 3.3 billion euros, or 8.3 percent of the total income from employment in 2000. Shipping industry officials estimate that the contribution to the national economy increased significantly in 2001 and 2002. According to data presented in EEE’s last general assembly, Greek-owned merchant shipping (vessels of more than 1,000 tons gross) represents 16.5 percent of world gross tonnage, 18.8 percent of dwt tonnage and 9.37 percent of the number of vessels. In October 2002, the Greek merchant navy numbered 3,026 ships of more than 3,000 tons each, totaling a capacity of 155.04 million dwt or 92.64 million tons gross. The previously declining number of vessels on the Greek Shipping Register stabilized in 2002. The government reduced taxation on shipping firms and seamen’s incomes, reducing operational costs. Nevertheless, Greek taxes on shipping remain above the levels of other EU countries. At the end of 2002, Greek-registered shipping was only a fraction of Greek ownership, consisting of 2,033 ships totaling a capacity of 29.79 million tons gross, against 2,036 ships totaling 29.81 million tons gross in December 2001. Of these, just 696, with a total capacity of 27.30 million tons gross, were more than 3,000 tons each. «Two important elements must be taken into account: First, we shall have an extensive renewal of the fleet with the addition of midsized and large vessels, and second, that shipowners responded positively to the government’s apparent willingness to tackle problems and stopped the drain on the national register that was tending toward becoming permanent,» said a shipping source.