Address by the President of the Union of Greek Shipowners

At the dawn of the new decade, shipping, in the first place, is called upon to meet the high environmental demands that have been placed on the international and European political agendas, while operating in an especially uncertain economic and geopolitical environment, which present major challenges: the prevalent tendency towards protectionism globally, trade wars between important trading nations, instances of reorganization and disruption of international trade, as well as the global health threat of COVID-19 and its dramatic consequences.

The second half of 2019 was marked by the intense preparation of the international shipping community for the transition, as of January 2020, to an era of new low sulphur marine fuels with a global sulphur cap of 0.5%. Shipping was called upon to apply a new regulation without the necessary guarantees regarding safety, availability and smooth operation, because the responsible stakeholders were not obliged and did not meet the requirement to produce and make safe new fuels available in sufficient quantities worldwide.

The Union of Greek Shipowners sounded the alarm promptly and repeatedly and thus acted as a lever for the United Nations International Maritime Organization (UN IMO) to take certain last-minute measures to facilitate the transition.

However, the shortcomings of the legislation on new low sulphur fuels should serve as an example of what needs to be avoided in connection with the ongoing legislative process for the adoption of measures to reduce Green- house Gas emissions from ships. The UN IMO has the responsibility for formulating and adopting realistic and effective global measures and should ensure that this is so before these measures come into force. As responsible citizens we support the “European Green Deal” and the European Commission’s vision for the protection of life and the environment on our planet. Under no circumstances, however, can considerations of a purely regional economic nature and revenue- generating policies be substituted for these objectives, as is the case with the proposals to revise and extend the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS).

In the midst of the pandemic that humanity is experiencing, shipping and its seafarers are offering irreplaceable services, providing the basic goods that our society needs in times of peace, but especially in times of crisis. In this respect, the role of shipping requires and deserves international recognition and support by governments, in order to safeguard, the unimpeded provision of these necessary maritime transport services. Above all, however, the severe problems relating to the movement of seafarers and the changing of crews must be resolved immediately. The international community must ensure the smooth movement of seafarers around the world and give proper consideration to their health and welfare, which has a direct bearing on the safety of ships and navigation.

In addition, it is clear that shipping has inevitably also been hit by the global economic and trade shocks caused by the pandemic, resulting in a major deterioration of the freight markets, where there has been a drastic drop in freight rates and in demand for maritime transport services to almost zero for some categories of ships. Therefore, the sustainability of shipping companies must be urgently ensured, a basic prerequisite of which is guaranteeing their liquidity and granting flexibility for loan repayments.

To this end, the European institutions and competent authorities as well as the financial institutions were promptly informed about the need to include shipping companies to the horizontal supporting measures entailing, inter alia, the deferral on loans amortization for a determinable time frame, which have been adopted through legislative or non-legislative moratoria by the vast majority of the EU Member States, including Greece, and their supervisory banking authorities.

Within our national borders, the challenge for but also the vision of Greek shipping remains the immediate enhancement of the competitiveness of the Greek register, in order to stop the flagging-out of ships, before the situation becomes irreversible, as well as the revival of the seamanship of our nation. The two interrelated issues need a holistic approach and strategy and are priorities of national maritime policy.

In this context, the recent legislative initiatives for the signing-on of Greek seafarers onboard ships, flying the Greek flag, will give a new impetus and dynamics to the Greek register, making it an attractive choice for our ships. At the same time, young people, seeking employment and vocational opportunities, can now pursue a career in the maritime profession, as they can be recruited on competitive terms, compatible with those in the international maritime labour market. In this respect and due to the recent change in the legal framework for graduates of the Vocational High Schools with Maritime Focus, they have regained the right to be promoted up to the position of Master and Chief Engineer and this is a most positive development.

Moreover, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy has announced its cooperation with the Eugenides Foundation for the conduct of a study for the overall upgrading and modernization of the maritime education system. We are waiting for the results of this study with special interest so that our maritime education will be able to continue successfully meeting contemporary requirements for the creation of well-trained officers.

Finally, the Greek Shipowners’ Social Welfare Company “SYN-ENOSIS” continues its dynamic presence and actions which are leaving a distinct mark on the social welfare of our society. Special mention should be made to the donation of 10 high-speed vessels to the Hellenic Coast Guard, which will cover the increased needs for patrolling the Greek seas, as well as to the undertaking of the renovation of the sanitary facilities of public hospitals in the Attica region and the provision of consumable supplies for all hospitals, including the needs of the ambulances of the National Emergency Aid Centre. SYN-ENOSIS’ work culminated in a donation of over 13 million euros for sanitary and technological equipment to the National Health System to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our vision remains to be able to pass on to the next generations this important work and establish the shipping community as a model of social solidarity and contribution in our country.

The challenges facing merchant shipping internationally in the near and medium future are many and varied. However, Greek shipping has strengthened historically in times of crisis and has the foundations to maintain its leadership, offering our country exceptional economic, diplomatic and strategic advantages.