Shipowners tell EU commissioners age limits are unfair and unsafe

Greek shipowners told top European Union officials this week that ideas to impose an age limit on vessels (e.g. 15 years) were unjustified, biased, ignored the economic realities of merchant marine and also undermined safety in the long run. The issue was one of several touched upon during talks in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday between a delegation, including the chairmen of the Hellenic Shipowners Union (EEE), Yiannis Lyras, and of the London-based Greek Maritime Cooperation Committee, Epameinondas Empeirikos, with the commissioners of Transport and Energy, Loyola de Palacio, and of Social Affairs, Anna Diamantopoulou. According to a press release, the agenda mainly included issues related to the economic and strategic importance of the EU’s merchant fleet, particularly regarding the securing of supplies of oil and raw materials in times of crisis. Today, Greek-owned shipping, including vessels under foreign flags, is a world leader with a fleet of 3,246 ships of all types (over 1,000 grit), totaling more than 75 million gross tons. It accounts for 16 percent of world capacity and about 50 percent of European Union capacity. The Greek flag ranks third worldwide. The average age of vessels registered in Greece is nine years and of those withdrawn from service, 20 years. Lyras said existing legislation, based on a series of treaties with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), was adequate regarding shipping companies’ environmental responsibilities and that a European Union directive now being prepared did not have to contain special provisions for sea transport. Emphasis was put on the need to improve the negative picture of merchant shipping in the Union in order to attract young seamen and entrepreneurs to the industry. The Greek delegation proposed the establishment of European Shipping Week as one measure for dealing with the problem. The EEE backed the continuance after 2002 of measures that have contributed to an improvement in the competitiveness of the EU’s merchant fleet, to attracting vessels back onto the registers of member states and to the development of sectors related to merchant shipping. The delegation received assurances that the final shipping agreement between the EU and China – now in draft form – will include the Greek dual flag/company system, known as the Greek clause, established by regulations on European Union shipping policy in 1986. Finally, there was an exchange of views on a complaint the EU is preparing to file with the World Trade Organization regarding the prices of Korean shipyards.

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