Unfounded criticism

The decision by the Greek government to block a European Union proposal to make punishment for maritime pollution harsher – under which individuals responsible for pollution could face hefty fines and prison terms of up to 10 years – sparked protests in the local media and political circles. As in the past, with the issue of single-hull tankers, the draft EU directive – which was pushed by populist politicians in Spain and France following two sea accidents that could be mostly blamed on the authorities – has many politicians spouting nonsense. Driven by passion and contradiction, they ignore the real facts, as well as the interests of the country and its people. Greece has a strong maritime tradition and the biggest oceangoing fleet in the world. Greek shipowners are among the most respected worldwide. Given the increase in international commerce and the recent state of oil markets, the shipping industry has become the biggest source of revenue for the Greek economy – surpassing even that of the tourism sector. About $12 billion flow into the country each year and hundreds of thousands have found work in the shipping industry. Shipping and related activity make up Greece’s most thriving and competitive sectors – which many countries have tried to match or imitate. It is worth noting that Greece’s shipping industry grew without any state aid or subsidies, in an open, globalized and highly competitive environment that requires continuous effort, specialization and investment both in reliable ships and human resources. Some wrong-minded people have stubbornly refused to acknowledge these facts and tried to make the sector the subject of domestic partisan rivalry. Former Socialist Prime Minister Costas Simitis was the first to do so when he saw his stock falling. In an attempt to deflect burgeoning criticism of his crumbling government, the former PASOK chairman all of a sudden began to hammer at single-hull tankers and to demand – in the name of the environment – that they be replaced overnight, as if this was about mobile phones. Simitis did not take into consideration that 80 percent of the fleet was made up of single-hulled ships and that such an upgrade would take at least 15 years. Now, on the pretext of the Commission initiative to criminalize seafarers, we are seeing more of that absurdity. The Greek media and politicians are asking for harsh penalties for the crews of ships that are responsible for maritime pollution. But do they know that ships are monitored by authorities who certify for seaworthiness with the responsibility of shipowners, without the crews’ knowledge. Why should the crews be held accountable? Enough. Nonsense has its limits even when you have lost power and its benefits.