Greek shipowners called for a national policy to strengthen the competitiveness of ships bearing the Greek flag to avoid risking the industry’s achievements. Already two-thirds of the Greek-owned fleet belong to foreign registers today, and the worry is that more ships will meet the same fate, warned the representatives of the Greek Union of Shipowners (EEE) and the Greek Shipping Cooperation Committee of London, who met this week in Piraeus. «The country with the biggest and one of the most modern fleets in the world has in the last few decades followed a policy against growth, at the expense of the most rapidly expanding sector of its economy. This creates a serious national deficit,» said one of the officials at the meeting. However it was noted that over the last six months, Greek-owned shipping has grown even stronger, continuing its high rate of quality renewal on the basis of a wide-ranging construction program for the building of new, state-of-the-art ships. The construction program, ordered by Greek shipowners and set to wrap up in 2010, includes more than 400 vessels, to a total capacity of about 30 million dwt. The Greek-managed fleet of over-100-gt ships today numbers 1,491 vessels. The Merchant Marine Ministry data about the state of the Greek-flagged fleet is positive regarding its qualitative features. There is a clear improvement in the quality of the Greek register, both in the size of vessels and the age of the fleet (further drop of average ship age). Nevertheless, shipping sources suggest that the Greek register is clearly losing in competitiveness against its European rivals, and that dynamic measures are required that will contribute in Greek shipping maintaining its global lead. «These measures should aim at two directions: More flexibility in crew composition and substantial upgrading of naval education, with the attraction of more young people in sea professions,» the same sources told Kathimerini. Shipowners argued in the meeting that the unjustified delay in preparing the appropriate and sufficient workforce for an ever-increasing shipping industry has created greater gaps in manning the technologically advanced ships. In the long term this is certain to affect office needs, too, regarding shipping management. Ministry data shows that the balance between entries and exits from the register of ocean-going ships in the period from August 1, 2005, to the same date in 2006 has been positive, both in ship numbers (a 4 percent rise) and in total capacity (an 8 percent rise), which should have a positive impact on the market and the national economy. The Greek register had 56 new entries of ocean-going ships, totaling 3,182,646 register tons, while in the same period 54 ships were written off the register, totaling 1,799,097 register tons. The average age of the vessels that entered the register was just four years, against 21 years which was the age of the outgoing ships. The overall average age of the Greek-owned fleet in 2006 stands at 11.7 years, down from 11.9 years in 2005. Even smaller is the average age of the Greek-flagged fleet, which stands at 6.9 years, against 9.8 years that is the global average. This reflects the renewal trend of the Greek fleet. The national naval workforce employed today at the Greek-flagged and Greek-owned ships exceeds 25,000. Finally, ministry data shows that in August 2006 1,021 foreign shipping companies had offices or branches in Greece, down from 1,155 companies in August 2005. The staff employed in those companies came to 11,764 people, against 11,041 people last year. They consisted of 10,383 Greeks (from 9,753 Greeks last year) and 1,381 foreigners (up from 1,288 in 2005). Greek-owned shipping companies have increased their presence in Piraeus, leading to a much-needed rise in foreign currency inflows and an increase in employment at high salaries.