Greek coastal shipping industry rapidly sailing toward a duopoly

Greek coastal shipping industry rapidly sailing toward a duopoly

A new round of restructuring is under way in the Greek coastal shipping industry, with its catalyst being the tender by Piraeus Bank for the sale of a 40.44 percent stake in Hellenic Seaways (HSW) that belongs to the lender’s portfolio.

Given the buying interest from Italian group Grimaldi, which already controls 48 percent of HSW and more than 94 percent of Minoan Lines, it appears that the future in the Aegean and Adriatic seas may have two instead of four major players – currently Attica Group (which owns Blue Star and Superfast Ferries), Minoan, HSW and ANEK.

Attica, in a joint project with ANEK, is active on Adriatic routes and those to Crete, and operates on its own in the Aegean, where HSW (which also operates in the Saronic Gulf) is its main competitor. Besides its cooperation with Attica, ANEK operates in the smaller markets of the southern Aegean via a subsidiary.

The Grimaldi Group appears determined to acquire HSW and market sources say that even if any serious rivals for the Piraeus Bank-owned stake do emerge, it will not hesitate to beat their offers. Emanuele Grimaldi himself, the group’s chief executive and head of the Association of Italian Shipowners (Confitarma), has told Kathimerini that “concentration is the main feature of all sectors in the global economy, not just coastal shipping, and will likely lead to two protagonists in the Greek market: the Attica Group with ANEK on the one hand, and Grimaldi with Minoan and HSW on the other.

Concentration will result in economies of scale and investments, which Emanuele Grimaldi considers absolutely necessary for the industry to be competitive. He also believes that the smaller companies which operate low-standard vessels or are in poor financial shape will inevitably vanish.

For now the sector in Greece appears to have rebounded and is on a level of healthy operating profits, also posting positive net results, which has attracted the interest not only of Grimaldi but also of Fortress, the US investment fund that is among the Attica Group’s backers. That momentum is mainly thanks to the drop in fuel prices, and in 2015 the market was boosted by refugee and immigrant transfers, while the challenges from the economic crisis remain.

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