The head of the Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS) yesterday called for a change in shipping policy to make the Greek shipping register more competitive, making a barely veiled threat that shipowners could always choose flags of convenience. «It is time for the state and public opinion to realize that shipowners, notwithstanding their ability to defend their legitimate interests thanks to their great international experience, are concerned about the country’s prospects and the general welfare. (They are interested in) a shipping sector tightly integrated into the economy, society and our country’s needs, provided the necessary conditions exist,» UGS President Nikos Efthymiou told the shipowners’ annual general assembly. Efthymiou said Greece needs a «realistic» shipping policy in order to upgrade the shipping register and called for the creation of a shipping center that will provide high-quality services. The shipowners’ longstanding demands involve getting rid of the mandatory levels of local crews and officers that must be employed in ships carrying the Greek flag. Efthymiou also referred to the importance of the Greek merchant fleet, saying that in 2005 inflows from the shipping sector accounted for 4.8 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP). Also last year, Greek shipowners placed orders for 100 new ships worth $3.7 billion. Greek-owned ships still form the world’s largest merchant fleet, which has considerably expanded over the last 15 years; from 2,426 ships of a capacity exceeding 1,000 gross tons in 1990, it reached 3,338 ships in 2005. «Unfortunately, the Greek shipping register did not follow this impressive development. In 2005, it contained 798 ships with a capacity of 52 million deadweight tons or 36 percent of the total capacity of the Greek-owned fleet,» Efthymiou said. «The Greek State must move quickly to cover, to the best possible extent, the ground lost over the past few years when the Greek register became non-competitive compared to others.» Referring to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s recent trip to China, Efthymiou said that if what was agreed in China is implemented, «(the port of) Piraeus, but also the whole of the country will become a focal point not only for the world’s shipping sector but for international trade, as well.» He said Greek shipowners have placed many orders with Chinese shipyards and are poised to transport more Chinese goods. In the election that followed, Efthymiou was re-elected UGS president. Also elected to the UGS board were Christos Kanellakis, Theodoros Veniamis (VP) Mattheos Los and Michael Chandris (secretaries), Leonidas Dimitriadis-Eugenidis (treasurer) and Anastassios Papayiannopoulos (deputy treasurer).