The Merchant Marine Ministry will soon announce measures designed to upgrade seamen’s training and the profession as a whole, the ministry’s general secretary, Yiannis Tzoannos, said in Piraeus yesterday. «Our shipping is national capital and does not lend itself to petty party politics,» he said at the annual event for the cutting of the traditional New Year’s cake. Vangelis Kouzilos, president of the Panhellenic Association of Merchant Shipping Captains (PEPEN), said it is important that the government adopt substantive measures for shipping, which outpaced any other sector of the economy in 2004 in foreign currency earnings, with 13 billion euros. «Nowhere else in the world does such a small number of workers, as those employed in shipping and who are now about 40,000, contribute so much to a nation’s economy,» he said. Kouzilos also said Piraeus needs everyone’s contribution to develop into an international shipping center, and praised Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis for his «resolute stance» last year in vetoing European Union proposals that would penalize shipping crews in the event of sea-polluting accidents regardless of circumstances. Awards The ministry presented awards to 13 Greek captains who saved a total of 103 people in danger at sea. Sixty-five illegal immigrants, on a raft in Spanish territorial waters, were rescued by M/T Capt. Diamant, skippered by Pantelis Karamanis, on January 12, 2004. A special award for seamanship was presented to Captain Apostolos Mangouras, skipper of the Prestige tanker that sank off Spain’s Atlantic coast in November 2003 after struggling in rough seas for several days. Mangouras and Spanish authorities have blamed each other for the handling of the accident, which caused a major oil slick and extensive environmental damage. He has been set free, pending trial.