A decisive turn in the communication strategy for Greek shipping

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

A new strategy for Greek shipping – one of opening to society/to global public opinion rather than of discreet, behind-the-scenes activity – has been announced (although once more in subdued tones) by freshly-elected President of the Union of Greek Shipowners in this year’s Poseidonia 2022 meet – quite successful an event, since it got some 27.000 visitors, with several hundred foreign participants.

In a quite vivid description of what shipping means for everyday life in a modern society Melina Travlos remended in her opening remarks the audience that the very clothes we all wear, the bread we eat, the cars we drive – even the mike in which she was speaking – were all transported by sea, and will keep being transported that way. The shock that supply chains reeled under due to the corona-virus pandemic, now the problems encountered (e.g. in facing the looming food crisis) due to the war in Ukraine make this truth clearer to everybody. Still, the powers that be seem less than aware of this reality; even more so, the public at large is oblivious of this fact, holding generally critical or at best detached positions towards shipping. The new Board of the U.G.S. seems to have acknowledged at long last the risks of such a situation, so it envisages a new policy of openness and a candid, fact-based information campaign.

In a closing Press Conference, the point was made by M. Travlos In the matter of complying with environmental standards that EU authorities should realise that shipping is a truly global business. So, any regulations – along with compliance time-lines – should be negotiated and implemented at an international (meaning: IMO) and not regional (meaning: EU) level. Schemes like Fit for 55 or ETS may lead to a 60% increase at the cost of running a ship: this would not augur well for the competitivity of EU-based shipping – which, by and large, is Greek (plus Cypriot, plus Maltese).

Greek shipping would be willing to comply with the most stringent environmental requirements “tomorrow”, if only the necessary technologies, hardware and environment friendlier fuels were effectively available. Which is not the case.

Be it said that earlier on, in the opening day of Poseidonia 2022, when such questions were raised with EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean, her reaction was limited to say that shipping” is a truly globalized industry” – so Greek shipowners would have to look for an adequate business model and the best available technology for their ships so as to keep their leading position. The Commissioner seemed genuinely unconcerned that excessive regulatory activity may well end in undermining the competitive situation – and cause a shift of shipping Eastwards (as has been the case for shipbuilding).

Prime Minister Mitsotakis made it known that he had addressed a letter to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen calling for shipping to be acknowledged «a European priority». This would mean support to speed up alternative technologies and fuels, compatible with environmental priorities, but also economically viable; to ensure equal treatment of transport modes; to share on an equal footing the receipts from the ETS system insofar sea transport is concerned.

Facing a carefully put question – where EU Commission investigation of the crucial Greek shipping taxation issue currently stands – M. Travlos replied in an equally measured way: there is no properly speaking investigation underway, but the existing taxation regime (agreed between the Greek authorities and the shipowner community initially on a voluntary basis) still stands – while some clarifications have been sought by Brussels. A standstill situation if there ever was, one would say.

One most topical issue was further raised: what of the current flurry of sanctions imposed to trade with (or: involving) Russia. Here, the UGS President provided the politically correct answer that Greek shipping abides by all standing legal prohibitions; when asked, further on, how come and the behaviour of Greek shipowners was negatively targeted by international media in this context, she ventured the disarmingly frank comment that if someone rides high (as is the case with Greek shipping), one is wont to get flak by global media. In a more fighting mood, leading reek shipowners such as George Prokopiou/Dynacom, Giannis Koustas/Danaos, Vangelis Marinakis/Capital Maritime, speaking at a Capital Link-organized panel – questioned the wisdom and operation of the sanctions system, as one of shooting one’ own feet.

We shall live in interesting times, indeed.