This fascinating synopsis by Greek consultant Ioannis Michaletos, prepared exclusively for Balkanalysis.com, gives an overview of Greek sea power and shipping from ancient to modern times, and also includes vital statistics on the modern Greek merchant marine fleet, as well as predictions for future activity in the sector. The study grew out of an oral presentation made in March 2005 before the European Network of Technology Brokers, an independent consultancy based in Athens.
Since around 1000 BC, the Hellenic world - then composed of numerous city-states, small kingdoms and tiny principalities – was united by a common tendency to invest in the merchant navy, and thus expand its commercial activities through the navy. From that period and onwards many structural, historically-determined changes have occurred; nevertheless the importance of Hellenic naval power has remained. Today as in ancient times, the Greek fleet is the largest in the world.
There are fundamental reasons for the specialization and staying power of the Hellenes in terms of maritime activities. First of all, consider the geographical composition of their country. Punctuated by high mountains, small plains and thousands of islands and islets, shipping has always been of paramount importance. It acknowledges the importance of reliance on the sea for communication, import and export of necessary material, and finally as a means of bringing together hundreds of disparate territories, which at many times in history represented different political units. It is well known that the most cost-effective way of transporting large amounts of goods has always been by the sea; this also gives a very big incentive for anyone to rely on sea transportation lines.
Nine facts about the Greek Merchant Fleet Today:
1. In 2004, 13.5 billion euro were absorbed by Greece from the merchant fleet.
2. Approximately 23.5 percent of the world’s oil tankers of 73.8 million DWT belong to Greek ship owners; This is as large as the US and Japanese fleets combined.
3. Some 20 percent of the world’s ships in gross tonnage over 1000 DWT belong to Hellenic ship owners; This is around 60 percent of EU 25 combined fleets.
4. The largest Hellenic shipping conglomerate nowadays, that of the Tsakos family, has a fleet of around 8 million DWT; This is two times larger than the entire French fleet.
5. Greek ships transport 70 percent of Chinese imported oil and natural gas.
6. Around 50,000 professionals work for Hellenic shipping companies in the City of London.
7. Around $20 billion were spent in Japanese shipyards for the construction of new ships for Greek shipowners, only for the period 2001-2005.
8. Around 450,000 employees and their family members depend on the merchant navy and related activities in Greece nowadays.
9. The port of Piraeus is the third largest in the world in terms of passenger transportation; In 2004, some 15 million passengers were transported to the islands via Greek ferries.
For the Greek merchant fleet in the year 2006, the major trend will be selling off ships that have been in service for over 10 years old, which will result in a great number of sales. Look to shipping interests to invest their new capital in non-shipping related activities, as well as in repaying loans made in the booming 90's era. It is widely assumed that the "righteous circle" of shipping will end around 2010 and the main interest of those involved will be to divert their profits soon enough in other sectors, while discarding older ships that accrue maintenance costs and can contribute to a future surplus.
The maritime sector in Greece is the first truly globalized part of the economy and one of the few that operates more or less according to a laissez faire model of supply and demand. The assumption that the cycle will be completed in a few years means literally that the analysts have predicted a slowdown of world trade. By closely monitoring the shipping industry, very illuminating highlights can be made regarding wider economic and political affairs.