OPINION

Shipping industry’s neglected lead

The Posidonia maritime exposition, the world’s largest shipping fair that was honored by the presence of the Norwegian royal couple and Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, brought to the limelight one of Greece’s greatest powers, which is usually left in the dark. Greek-owned oceangoing shipping ranks in the first place worldwide, but most of us still insist on considering it a second-rate industry, mistakenly believing that it offers few job opportunities and that most of the revenue stays outside the national borders. Evidence, however, suggests otherwise, confirming that merchant shipping is Greece’s strongest industry, with tourism ranking in second place. The foreign exchange expected to flow into the country from economic activity in the merchant navy is expected to hover at 12 billion euros in 2004, while the number of high-income jobs in the sector are in the tens of thousands. Furthermore, the industry is showing a strong upward trend as Greek shipowners have made mammoth investments, placing 400 ship orders since 2000. The specific characteristics of this sector – in which Greece excels – are evident to anyone attempting a comparison with the way other industries operate in Greece. And this is because private competition is intense in the international maritime business. The only real «weapons» here are extreme professionalism, the constant reinvestment of assets, keeping up with new technology and emphasizing human resources. In this sector, there are no direct assignments, entangled interests or state-backed «champions.» The impressive achievements of the Greek shipping sector are attributable exclusively to those who have pulled them off – from major shipowners to the simple sailor. Our country, which has traditionally relied on its marine sector, should support this dynamism and maximize its benefits. Here we are referring not just to a restructuring of training for the maritime sector, but also to a systematic policy of developing state services in support of the shipping sector – from insurance and brokerage to a range of special services which Greece is currently obliged to seek abroad. The new government has shown that it is distinctly more favorably disposed toward the shipping industry than the governments of Costas Simitis, who probably felt the same hostility toward the industry as the stock market chiefs who were only seeing «bubbles» at the time. A favorable disposition is all very well, but there also needs to be an appreciation of the shipping industry for our economy and the development of a comprehensive and systematic policy for the sector. If nothing else, shipping is the only area in which we stand out – in a positive way – on the international stage.