Shipowners want friendlier attitudes, more competitive Greek regulations European politicians do not fully grasp the importance of shipping in the world economy and are tainting its image in public opinion because of the Prestige accident and ecological disaster off the coast of Spain last November, the new chairman of the Greek Union of Shipowners (EEE), Nikos Efthymiou, told a news briefing. «Even a double- or treble-hull vessel would have sunk without the elementary assistance which Prestige did not receive,» he said. He criticized the European Commission’s decision to speed up the withdrawal of single-hull tankers as mistaken, and ignoring the EU’s actual fuel requirements and social repercussions. Efthymiou said fears of shortages as a result of an Iraq war were currently boosting the oil shipping business and that the merchant marine would benefit from a postwar reconstruction of Iraq. EEE’s new chief urged the government to speed up a second batch of measures to boost the competitiveness of Greek shipping in view of the entry into the EU of Cyprus and Malta, which have flags of convenience. An accompanying priority issue is attracting young seamen to the profession, to meet the modern demands of ship management, Efthymiou said. A relaxation of regulations regarding crew composition will attract more vessels to the Greek register and boost employment, he added. Finally, he warned that the adoption of stricter lending criteria in a revised Basel Capital Accord – now under discussion – will particularly affect small shipping companies. In 2002, Greece earned 8.5 billion euros of foreign exchange from shipping – compared to 9.5 billion from tourism – meeting 25 percent of the country’s trade deficit. Banks dismiss grounds for consumer credit boycott Banking sources yesterday said data often released by consumer groups to show the degree of indebtedness of Greek households was either selective or bogus, and that according to a research study by ICAP, one in two households are without any consumer debts. The comments came in response to the call by the Greek Quality of Life Consumer Association (EKPOIZO) for consumers to abstain from using credit cards and signing loan contracts for a week – starting yesterday – in protest at what it calls exorbitant rates, misleading advertising and violation of court decisions and the law. According to data issued by EKPOIZO last week, thousands of cars and homes are under under threat of being auctioned as borrowers cannot repay loans. A number of credit card issuers charge rates far in excess of the 9.25 percent laid down by law, according to the Borrowers’ Association. Defense The government intends to continue assigning defense equipment contracts to state-controlled Hellenic Arms Industry (EBO) and munitions company PYRKAL, now in the process of being merged, Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said. Contract delays were due to the fact that the government was exercising extreme care as regards formalities and procedures for the merger, which will enter the substantial phase in the autumn. The government signed contracts worth 100 million euros with EBO and PYRKAL last year. Last week, telecoms equipment-maker Intracom announced it had won an international tender to supply the Greek army with 541 HF-SSB wireless stations for 16.11 million euros. The contract will be executed in partnership with France’s Thales Communications.