Greece’s shipping sector is not being affected by the country’s sovereign debt crisis and could benefit from the recession due to the availability of cheaper office space, an expert said yesterday. Andreas Merikas, professor of shipping finance and head of the Maritime Department at the University of Piraeus, said the crisis has provided leeway for Athens-based shipping firms to reduce real estate expenses due to the increase in office availability. «There is an opportunity to lower costs here,» Merikas told a shipping conference. Despite competition with cities such as London and Singapore, Athens and the port of Piraeus remain a popular hub for Greece’s 750 shipping companies which operate globally. Plunging investment activity in the Greek economy, which is expected to contract by 4 percent this year, has resulted in a drop in office rentals by 10 to 12 percent in the second quarter of 2010, according to industry sources. Rising unemployment figures could also provide shipping companies with a larger pool of potential employees to choose from, said Merikas, who added that salary expenses may be more resilient due to the need for specialized workers. Greek shipowners, who possess about a fifth of the global fleet, are a key money-earner for the economy. In July, income from shipping activities rose 15 percent year-on-year to 1.44 billion euros, as the sector saw an increase in demand from China and improved conditions in global trade. Despite Greece entering its worst economic recession in almost 40 years, it is «business as usual» for shipping firms, according to Theo Xenakoudis, managing director of International Registries Inc / Marshall Islands Registry. «There are ups and downs but this is connected to what is going on in global trade,» he added.