The national Greek Shipping Register grew further in size and strength in the first nine months of 2004. A total of 113 ships, with a tally of 3.45 million register tons in capacity and with an average age of nine years, were registered to carry the Greek flag, while 109 vessels, totaling 3.12 register tons and with an average age of 23.5 years, were taken off the register. The development clearly shows the current attraction of shipowners to the Greek flag, as the national register is on the so-called «White List,» meaning that the vast majority of vessels carrying the Greek flag fulfill all international safety rules and regulations, as well as environmental protection standards. According to the Merchant Marine Ministry, the trend continued from 2003, when the number of ships registering in Greece also rose steadily, with 168 new entries, totaling 7.15 million register tons, while 156, totaling 4.43 register tons, were deregistered. Shipping circles take the view that the increase in the total tonnage registered could have been much bigger had the government sought to apply faster effective measures for the enhancement of the competitive position of the Greek flag. The industry hopes for such measures to improve its overall business environment, upgrade education and training, allow for a more flexible crew composition, improve services imperative to shipping companies and enhance the effectiveness of arbitration procedures. Greek shipowners currently have on order 270 ships, totaling 24.7 million register tons, excluding passenger vessels. Of these, 170 are tankers and 65 bulk carriers, with a total investment of $7 billion. «A substantial change in the philosophy of the government vis-a-vis the treatment of shipping issues could bring new vessels under the Greek flag, bolstering the country’s strength internationally, fueling additional currency inflows into the national economy and creating more jobs for young Greek officers who would thus improve the skills necessary to run modern vessels with safety,» said a source at the Union of Greek Shipowners (EEE) who asked not to be named. After the recent meeting between the members of the London-based Greek Maritime Cooperation Committee, EEE and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, shipping circles expressed optimism that «there are signs of change in the way the government is prepared to treat the shipping industry.» According to sources, the prime minister made it clear to the shipowners that the government is aiming at bolstering the competitive position of the Greek flag and provided assurances it will strengthen its presence in international fora in support of the industry. «We are now waiting to see the measures that will bolster the competitiveness of the national register and will respond appropriately, as we believe that the government has the political will to help. Moreover, Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis keeps assuring us that the industry is high on the government’s agenda,» the same sources said.