The Covid-19 pandemic should have highlighted the importance of the people that make ships and cargoes travel the world, securing global supplies and providing essential commodities – their importance is frequently unappreciated and underestimated. In the preface to its 2020–2021 annual report, the Greek Shipping Co-Operation Committee (GSCC) slammed governments and regulators for failing to recognize the key role seafarers and shipping staff play.

Haralambos Fafalios, Fafalios Ltd, Chairman of the Greek Shipping Co-Operation Committee (GSCC)

Chairman of GSCC, Haralambos J. Fafalios talks to Antonis Karamalegos about the need to support seafarers and the challenges the shipping industry faces.

interview to Antonis Karamalegos

Do you see new challenges for the Greek shipping industry in the post-pandemic era? If yes, what are they?

Whilst we are nowhere near the post-pandemic era, the most important issue that we must reassess is the treatment of crew by the various nations around the globe. It has been appalling to witness the selfish and insular attitudes exhibited by major countries towards seafarers serving on board merchant ships. It is scandalous that nations welcome the cargoes carried by the ships but show no respect to the crews on board the vessels or no compassion towards them.

What is your position about the seafarers’ vaccination prioritization?

A global seafarers vaccination programme is still a long way off and will not happen until the United Nations designates seafarers as essential workers and gives them the priority they so richly deserve. People never focus on an industry which so efficiently carries about 90% of global trade and does so in such a selfless manner. The seafarer is one of the great heroes of the Covid-19 era, alongside doctors and nurses.

Seafarer on deck waiting for crew change. Source: rivieramm.com

In the last months, we notice several differences between the shipping sectors in terms of demand and transported volumes. For example, a big number of container ports worldwide are highly congested with the container liner operators announcing record profits, while the tanker sector is still at “depressingly low levels,” as you mention in the Committee report. In your opinion, what is the reason for such differences between the shipping sectors?

Different sectors of the industry will always react in different ways, because the commodities they carry do not always move at the same pace and the actual supply/demand balance of each sector are always going to be different. The container market is reacting positively to a global restocking programme brought about by a multitude of government-generated stimulus programs. This in turn has created severe bottlenecks at many ports worldwide and as a result freight rates have reacted accordingly to a tightening of vessel availability.

In the tanker sector, there is no such issue of port congestion and the vessel availability situation is at present more than able to carry any extra cargoes generated by the increased economic activity.

Exhaustion hits crews stranded for months Source: Institute for Human Rights and Business

How do you see the “green” progress of the Greek shipping industry and what is the next step?

The Greek fleet has spent the last 50 years becoming all the more efficient and by default creating a greener fleet by using always the latest technology to move ever larger amounts of cargo with ever more economical propulsion systems. In simple terms, a bulk carrier of 50 years ago moved 50,000 tons of cargo burning about 50 tons of fuel.

Today an 80,000 ton bulk carrier will do the same job burning 22 tons of fuel. Thus, the ship is 60% bigger and burns 60% less fuel. Looking at today’s environment of decarbonization, it is imperative that shipyards and engine builders come up with solutions because so far they have not brought forward any meaningful breakthroughs.

Whilst there are many new “low-carbon” fuels available, such as LNG, biofuels, ammonia or hydrogen, none are truly green and are just being marketed by self-interested parties eager to sell their products.

In the case of most of these new fuels, they create a much bigger carbon footprint to produce than what they save. By virtue of being the world’s largest shipping fleet, Greek companies are continuously ordering more and more low-carbon vessels and thus contributing positively to a cleaner environment.

The difference is that Greek companies will not compromise safety in order to show that their vessels are a bit greener than average.

Greek shipping always strives to build vessels with sufficient safety margins to avoid any environmental disasters.

Pirate crew in West Africa. Source: New African Magazine

According to the latest GSCC Annual Report, 2020 saw a year-on-year increase in global piracy. What actions should be taken against this important threat?

Piracy is on the increase again, more so in West Africa than elsewhere. What must be done is that the governments of those regions must fight the pirates and permit owners to have armed guards if they so wish.

The inteview is published in the July/ August 2021 issue of Greek Business File available here.