The Union of Shipowners (EEE) yesterday expressed satisfaction with government measures aimed at improving the competitiveness of the national register and said it expected more Greek-owned ships to raise the country’s flag soon. «We hope and wish that this realistic policy which the government has decided and is implementing will pave the way for the strengthening of our national register, not only from the pool of the two-thirds of our fleet registered abroad, but also through the raising of the Greek flag on the 550 ships to be delivered by shipyards in the next three years by shipyards,» said EEE President Nikos Efthimiou at the annual general meeting of the union. The EEE head added that Greek shipping expanded even more last year with an extensive renewal, strengthening Greece’s position further as the leader in global shipping. This sector, said Efthimiou, is also universally recognized as the one to have opened the cooperation between Greece and China, the rising economic superpower on the planet. The meeting heard that 50 percent of China’s shipping needs in dry bulk and 60 percent of its liquid-cargo needs are served by Greek-owned vessels, according to Chinese officials. Attracting youth Nevertheless, the continuing growth of Greek shipping and its quality upgrading with the massive addition of new-generation ships has also uncovered a significant problem – the great lack of officer crews. «If the lack of officers today makes manning a ship harder, tomorrow it may put at risk the very lead we have earned for many years in shipping. Therefore the need for us to acquire new officers sufficient both in numbers and in quality is now beyond doubt and to deal with it everyone will have to assist, led by the state,» the EEE head noted. He then suggested that «a well-organized effort, and definitely not a fragmented one, must begin so as to inform Greek youths that a creative and particularly profitable career is awaiting them at sea, with an unhindered rise up the hierarchy of both the ship and the shipping enterprise, without the insecurity and stress they come across in land employment in any way and time this may be offered to them.» Efthimiou also referred to the recent industrial action by dockers in Piraeus and Thessaloniki, arguing that it generated a negative climate among port users who suffer high financial losses, but mainly affect the major investments that could easily change course toward any neighboring country. The meeting was offered a snapshot of Greek shipping at the end of 2006: The total capacity of the Greek-managed fleet, which includes ships of more than 1,000 gross tons, reached 190 million deadweight tons, against 165 million dwt in 2005. This represents 18.9 percent of the global fleet, while the Greek-flagged fleet totaled 54.2 million dwt, which accounts for 26.38 percent of the whole EU fleet. The orders of the 550 new ships last December concerned a total capacity of about 45 million dwt.