ECONOMY

Greek fleet floats on top

The Greek-owned merchant fleet remains on top of the world, totaling 190 million gross tons (gt), or 16.1 percent of the world’s total shipping capacity. During 2006, Greek shipowners spent about $23.7 billion for the purchase and construction of new ships ($8.7 billion for acquisitions and $15 billion for shipbuilding), contributing substantially toward the modernization of their fleets. This means that with $8.7 billion, Greeks come first in investment in ship acquisitions, followed by the Norwegians ($3.5 billion) and the Germans ($3.2 billion). Data from international shipbroking agents shows that of the $8.7 billion, $5 billion was spent on buying dry-bulk vessels, $3.3 billion went toward tankers, $215 million for container ships and $102.5 million for refrigerating ships (reefers). In total, Greek shipowners bought 282 ships last year (171 dry-bulkers, 94 tankers, seven container ships and 10 reefers) against 155 bought by the Norwegians, 106 by the Chinese and 100 by the Germans. In new-ship orders, in October 2006 Greek shipowners had 30 ships under construction, totaling $1.1 billion, according to data by the George Moundreas & Co shipbroking agency. In March 2006, the Greek and Greek-owned fleet numbered 3,397 ships, expanded by 1.76 percent from March 2005. Its capacity showed an increase of 4.2 million gt or 3.82 percent from 2005. Notably, the average age of Greek-managed ships is 15.3 years, while that of Greek-flagged ships is just 11.7 years. Within 2006, Greek shipowners managed to reduced their bank debts by $4.4 billion to a total of $14.6 billion borrowed in the 2004-2006 period for the modernization of their fleet. The positive course of shipping companies is mirrored in the foreign currency influx from shipping activities; Bank of Greece provisional data show that in the period from January to October 2006, the influx came to -11,911.9 million against -11,522 million in the same period in 2005, an increase of -389.9 million or 3.3 percent. In October 2006 in particular, the foreign currency influx came to -1,232.4 million against -982.9 million in October 2005. Despite international pressures, such as the rise of oil prices by 46.3 percent in 2005 against 33.6 percent in 2004, Greek shipping continues to contribute foreign currency to this country that totaled -13.9 billion in 2005. Red tape obstacles At the same time, more than $200 billion that belongs to Greek shipping’s free cash flow remains unused due to bureaucracy and the lack of investment incentives from the Greek state. Shipping sources told Kathimerini that this money could become good fuel for the engine of Greek economy but is not being invested as Greece is not an attractive option for foreign, as well as Greek, investors since their experience has been negative. «The facilitation of the shipping sector for the realization of investments in the country – with the provision of state support services that would cut red tape – would attract considerable foreign direct investment and contribute greatly to the growth of the economy, the creation of new jobs and the increase of Greek exports,» sources from the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping told Kathimerini. Recently, the Special Secretariat for Competitiveness proposed three measures that could contribute to attracting investment in shipping. It suggested the creation of a shipping center in Piraeus so that Greek shipowners could relocate their company headquarters to Greece; the creation of a shipping service cluster that would be internationally competitive; and the training of people in high specializations to recruit positions with high demands in the shipping sector.