ECONOMY

An old hand gives views of what has to be done for Greek shipping

Simos Palios, the shipowner born on the eastern Aegean island of Chios, sounded the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Friday, when his Diana Shipping Inc made its trading debut. Palios said Diana Shipping, founded in 1972, is the fifth Greek company to be listed on the NYSE, after heavyweights like National Bank of Greece, Coca-Cola HBC, OTE Telecom and Tsakos Energy Navigation. He said his company has no debts, a strong balance sheet and an average ship age of 3.5 years. He expressed certainty that the NYSE will give the company the ability to grow substantially and create opportunities for Greeks to be involved with certification, arbitration and funding. Kathimerini interviewed Palios at his office in Faliron. Why should oceangoing shipping be listed in New York and not in Athens? At the moment several Greek-owned shipping companies are listed on the New York markets, NYSE or NASDAQ. These listings have been very successful as foreign investors view shipping with great interest. Greek shipowners would have loved to list their companies in Athens, but with the current situation there and the lack of investment interest, it is practically impossible for anyone to raise $200 million or more, as in New York. That is not the main problem, though. There is an issue with Greek legislation: In previous years the Athens Stock Exchange would not even accept listing applications by oceangoing shipping companies while the existing laws are particularly inflexible, discouraging any listing effort. Is there really such a major problem? I do not think any other stock market in the world imposes such restrictions on the listing of shipping companies. Nevertheless, Greek shipping, long used to international competition, has found its way to foreign stock markets. In fact, both the listed companies and those about to enter foreign stock markets, as well as other big companies, are changing the shape of shipping enterprises as we have come to know them traditionally. The new company model has a permanent corporate structure consisting of a parent company, listed or not, and of subsidiary shipping companies. Most board members in these enterprises are experienced technocrats, so that companies have a lasting image, separate from personalities and the traditional shipowner. The latter, however, will always remain in each company for guidance. The corporate model is changing. Aren’t the respective adjustments required? The change in the shipping company model requires some adjustments by Greek shipping legislation as well. The framework of the domestic legislation has for years proved successful and should not be replaced. Yet it had been created for single-ship companies and cannot deal with all the needs of the new business forms. So, without changing the framework, some clause adjustments are needed to serve the requirements of the new corporate structures, i.e. the parent firms with their subsidiary shipowning companies. Furthermore, the strengthening of shipping enterprises and their international recognition in the world’s biggest stock markets create the need and the conditions for Greece, and Piraeus in particular, to become international centers not only for shipowners but also for other services shipping needs. Also, the portion of shipping funding by banks has increased in Greece, most of it by domestic banks. Another issue is shipping arbitration, most of which takes place in London. However, its huge delays and particularly high costs render essential the creation of a permanent shipping arbitration seat in Greece, too, based on international standards. The shipping community is looking forward to such a prospect and when it is created shipowners will certainly embrace it, support it and could even impose it. In the Greek-American media you indirectly referred to the Hellenic Register of Shipping (HRS). Yes. This is another domain where Greek shipping companies can support the domestic shipping services. Registers are companies which, among other things, monitor the technical safety of ships. HRS ought to be supported by shipowners, who should registering their ships on it rather than on foreign registers, as well as by domestic companies such as railways and other construction projects that it could certify. Foreign registers do not rely on shipping only, but also on domestic activities. In addition we, individuals and authorities, should not defame HRS every time there is an accident at a ship registered in it. No doubt those responsible must pay but the «witch hunt» must stop as we are hurting ourselves in this way.