Merchant vessels outside Greece will not go on strike

LONDON – A two-day strike by Greek seafarers next week will not apply to Greek merchant ships trading in international waters, industry sources said yesterday. Greece has the world’s biggest shipping fleet, controlling over 20 percent of the globe’s 30,000-strong international fleet. Its vast shipping concerns carry crucial commodities like oil, gas, grains and iron ore to world markets. Greek-manned vessels are expected to be held in port for at least two days from March 1, the Greek shipping source said, after the country’s main seafaring body called mariners out. The action could be extended if the seafarers’ demands are not met. The Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation, the umbrella organization of 14 Greek seafarers’ unions, is demanding several improvements to seafarers’ pensions and benefits and the setting up of a seafarers’ unemployment fund. It is also demanding the abolition of recent amendments to the manning law that increase the number of foreign ratings allowed in a Greek ship’s crew complement, according to industry online publication Tradewinds. Greek shipping contributed a whopping 13.3 billion euros ($17.6 billion) to the country’s foreign exchange earnings in 2004, according to figures released by the Bank of Greece. Forex earnings for the year were up 39.5 percent on 2003, when the industry contributed 9.6 billion euros to the national coffers. Earnings have increased dramatically since 1998, when the industry brought in $2.3 billion.

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