Piraeus, shipping hub on the rise

Shipping-related foreign companies are increasingly setting up offices in Athens and especially Piraeus, a sign that Greek-owned ocean shipping is strengthening its position in the global industry. Today, about 80 percent of the business of Greek-registered shipping is conducted from Piraeus. The newcomers come from different sectors. The most recent example, announced at the Poseidonia shipping exhibition, is the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry, which is reopening an office with a bigger team and offering the full range of services in merchant shipping. These will include enhanced facilities for registering and lending to new and existing clients. The Piraeus office will be supported by staff in the register’s Southampton and Amsterdam offices. The number of Greek shipowners registering their merchant ships in this small Caribbean tax haven has risen 28 percent in the last three years but it remains small. In contrast, the registration of leisure boats has doubled in the last three months alone. In total, the Cayman Islands register has about 300 merchant ships and 1.300 leisure boats, representing 3.2 million tons. South Korea’s STX Shipbuilding is another firm that recently opened an office on Athens’s Syngrou Avenue. The office is the firm’s second midsized company opened abroad. Greeks are good customers of the company, which specializes in tankers and recently invested in the construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers. Its current roster has orders for 130 ships and its capacity is fully booked up to 2009. About 20 percent of new orders come from Greek companies, which actually represents a decline from past years. Many Greek shipowners in recent years have either adopted a wait-and-see attitude, due to higher shipbuilding costs, or have shifted their custom to China or some new Korean shipbuilders. Greece is also attracting large foreign chartering firms. One such firm is US-based Charles R. Weber of Vassilis Mavroleon, which is expected to open its new offices in Piraeus soon. Mavroleon is a descendant of a shipping family with roots on the island of Kassos. Charles R. Weber, also in partnership with US firm Compass Maritime, plans to set up WeberCompass Hellas in Piraeus. «Our presence here strengthens existing business and helps our activities with American charterers, as we will be nearer the Greek shipowners. It also enhances our access to markets, due to the time difference between Greece and the US. For instance, countries like Dubai, Kuwait, Russia, even Syria and Libya now become much more accessible,» says Mavroleon. The new company will transfer staff from the US and also employ locals.