Address by the President of the Union of Greek Shipowners

The year 2016 was another one of multiple challenges for shipping but also a year, at the end of which, Greek shipping emerged stronger both nationally and internationally.

Shipping continues to face a weak market with very poor freight rates, due to the continuing oversupply of capacity and the resulting imbalance in supply and demand, as well as the constraints of shrinking ship finance. The first months of 2017 have shown signs of slight recovery supported by firm activity in ship recycling and adaptations (eg. cancellations, extensions) to shipbuilding programmes and by the expected albeit small upward trend in world merchandise trade.

Wider international geopolitical developments were also significant. First and foremost, the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and a few months later the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the USA, both marking the beginning of a new era for Europe and the USA.

In the face of these developments, Greek shipowners were able to retain a 20% share of global capacity remaining active in shipbuilding and confirming their resilience but also their inherent ability to make the most out of the high volatility of maritime markets and the business opportunities this creates.

Furthermore, it is important to note that the Greek Prime Minister during his inaugural speech at Posidonia Exhibition in June 2016 paid tribute to the Greek shipping as a business development model and praised the Greek shipowners’ characteristics, those of extroversion, insight and innovation in investment and decision-making.

It is a common belief of the State and shipowners that Greek shipping must remain internationally competitive so as to be able to maximize the economic, political and strategic benefits for the country and for Europe, especially in the face of fierce competition from major shipping centres outside Europe.

The year 2017 has been declared «European Maritime Year». However, paradoxically, while the European Union seeks to enhance the competitiveness of its shipping, it acts in a way that undermines the stability of maritime activity in Europe.

In this context, the perpetuation of the investigation into the Greek shipping institutional framework, by the services of the Directorate – General for Competition of the European Commission, leaving a shipping community which represents 50% of the European Union fleet in uncertainty, places half of European shipping at risk. The prospect of relocation to hospitable shipping countries outside Europe, or even within Europe but outside the European Union, is no longer hypothetical.

The Greek shipping community and the Greek State share the common goal of maintaining and further strengthening the ties of Greek shipping with its homeland. This requires respect and  continuous support for the institutional maritime framework and the revitalization of the maritime know-how and traditions of the Greek nation.

The shipowning community is making every effort to strengthen and upgrade maritime education and to increase the Greek seafaring workforce as long as it is understood that the economic terms of employment must be internationally competitive.

Furthermore, the important work carried out by SYN-ENOSIS, the Greek Shipowners’ Social Welfare Association founded in April 2016 on the initiative of the UGS, makes our sector an exemplar of collective social solidarity. The UGS will continue to be the flag bearer of the SYN-ENOSIS vision, promoting it to the members of the shipping community and to our associates in the broad network of shipping activities.

The centenary celebration of the UGS on 9 November 2016, attended by the highest institutions in the country, sent out a strong message in and outside Greece regarding the historical character of Greek shipping as a national asset and regarding its importance for our country.

It is our business but above all our national aim to continue to offer our country the privilege of possessing the world’s leading shipping industry. The historically successful course of our sector demonstrates that we have the potential to achieve this despite today’s complex and unpredictable economic and political environment internationally.

Representing an industry of such national and global scope is an honour and a responsibility. The unity of the Greek shipping community through the Union of Greek Shipowners is our collective duty and is no doubt the most effective means of successfully achieving this common goal.