ECONOMY

Greek-owned shipping fleet flies flags of 45 countries

Greek-owned ships represented 8.7 percent of the world’s merchant fleet and 16.5 percent of its tonnage (in deadweight tons) at the end of the first quarter, according to Lloyd’s Shipping Register data. Despite the reduction in the number of Greek-owned ships – by 32 to 3,338, compared to the same period in 2004 – they still accounted for 25 percent of total maritime commerce. The total tonnage of the Greek-owned fleet is 110 million dwt. According to Lloyd’s, Greek shipowners control 22.4 percent of global tanker capacity and 24.6 percent of the world’s bulk-cargo capacity. The global Greek fleet consists of 502 tankers, 418 carriers of chemicals and oil by-products, 61 oil and gas carriers, 1384 bulk cargo and iron ore carriers, 176 container ships, 577 general cargo carriers, 139 passenger ships, 27 combined cargo ships and 54 ships of other types. The number includes 338 new ships totaling 15.84 million gross tons, 200 of which are tankers. Greek shipowners have been especially active in recent years in investing in new ships. Despite the fact that they have considerably renewed their fleets, their orders for newbuildings account for 7.8 percent of total orders, with deadweight capacity accounting for 12.2 percent of total. The Greek-owned fleet flies the flags of 45 countries, most of them flags of convenience that allow shipowners to avoid heavy taxation and to cut payroll costs by employing foreign crews at low wages. The most important countries under which the ships are registered are Greece (29 percent), Panama (17 percent), Malta (16 percent), Cyprus (12 percent), Bahamas (7 percent) and Liberia (6 percent). There were 969 ships in the Greek shipping register at the end of the first quarter, up from 904 in 2004. Another 171 ships under construction are expected to join soon. Greece’s shipping register would be much bigger if the Greek government had taken measures, long demanded by the Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS) and the London-based Hellenic Committee for Maritime Cooperation, in order to entice more shipowners to register their ships under the Greek flag. «If the competitiveness of the Greek shipping register is enhanced, the number of ships under the Greek club will increase, and more people will find jobs. However, the Merchant Marine Ministry, though it does understand the need for changes, is dragging its feet, for unknown reasons. This is inimical to the country’s interests and the international leverage that a stronger fleet could give it,» a London-based shipowner told Kathimerini. According to Bank of Greece data, capital inflows from maritime activities reached 17 billion euros in 2004, up 40.6 percent from 2003. IPOs of shipping firms appear to be abating LONDON (Reuters) – A run of public share offerings in the shipping industry is now set to abate with firms looking at mergers instead, financiers involved in the deals said yesterday. Fotis Giannakoulis, assistant vice president of US-based Fortis Securities, said $3.5 billion had been raised by 18 IPOs on US stock exchanges alone in the last 15 months. «This is really a remarkable number when taking into account they did not include four secondary offerings during the same period,» he told a ship finance and trade conference in London. Giannakoulis said the unprecedented bid for capital in such a short space of time was spurred by surging global seaborne trade and high freight prices as shipowners tried to cash in on the nearly three-year boom. Share flotations in shipping were rarely heard of before the spree, which was largely made up of Greek concerns. Europe has only seen a couple of offerings in the same period, though Athens-based Goldenport said last week it planned to list on the London Stock Exchange – the first such listing in many years. Giannakoulis said the funds raised were enough to finance 315 new 75,000-ton panamax cargo ships for dry commodities trade. He said most of the IPOs were in the dry commodities sector ($1.3 billion), followed by container and oil trade worth $900 million each. Gas and other freight were much smaller. Peter Shaerf, managing director of US-based AMA Capital Partners, said the total market capitalization for US oil tanker firms had grown from $2.5 billion in 2001 to $20 billion. «It (the sector) now has a bigger market cap than the airline industry,» Shaerf, who advises hedge funds and other investors, told Reuters. However, firm but lower freight rates this year, compared with the record-breaking peaks seen at the close of 2004, are pushing shipping firms to switch to mergers as a route to growing, financiers said. «Falling freight rates created a challenging environment for shipping IPOs and they have slowed,» said Giannakoulis. Robert Lustrin a partner with US-based law firm Seward and Kissel also said more firms would choose mergers as a force for growth. «We will see a number of merger transactions coming up in the shipping industry as IPOs start to cool down,» said Lustrin, who worked on many of the recent US public offerings. «A dearth of new IPO candidates or demand for IPOs leads to aggressive marketing by investment bankers which could trigger mergers,» he told the conference.