Greece is the second largest merchant marine fleet in the world, based on deadweight tons (dwt), with 3,996 ships having a capacity of over 1,000 gross tons, comprising 8 percent of the world fleet.
Greece’s vast coastal waterways and its geographic location, which serves as a gateway to the central Balkans and the Middle East, has generated increased opportunities for U.S. firms and demand for maritime transportation services and marine products in general.
Domestic business interests dominate this sector; however, foreign competition is increasingly active, in partnership with Greek companies. While British and Dutch interests are strong, American maritime transportation service providers continue to be well represented.
The global financial crisis has had a definite impact on the shipping industry. The lack of financing severely diminished global trade and freight rates, earnings and asset values, putting the shipping industry in turmoil. The market has gradually rebounded creating new opportunities for shipping companies and investors.
According to Lloyd’s Registry of Shipping (February 2010 statistics), Greek owners control 152.6 million of gross tonnage of cargo-carrying capacity. Its transporting capability of 263.5 million dwt covers 16.5 percent of the world transportation needs.
The average age of the Greek shipping fleet has been decreasing over the last four years and today is 1.3 years younger than the average age of the world’s fleet.
Worldwide, Greek ships are registered under 47 flags. According to Lloyd’s Register of Shipping (February 2010), out of 3,996 Greek-owned ships, 969 were registered under the Greek flag; in February 2009, out of 4,161 Greek-owned ships, 1,121 flew the Greek flag. In terms of flag registry, behind Greece, Liberia has 581 ships, Malta 524 ships, Marshall Islands 470 ships, Panama 558 ships, Cyprus 271 ships and The Bahamas 279 ships, under their flags.
Greek ships constitute 9.5 percent of world orders. In 2009 builders pushed back deliveries from six to eighteen months, and reduced prices. The Greek ship owners delivered 230 new ships at the beginning of 2009, and about 367 vessels are on order in 2010, while 249 are on order for next year. From the beginning of the year 2010, it is estimated that Greek ship owners have invested around $1.5 billion in new ships.
Greek ship owners are the leading customers of the world’s shipyards purchasing their ships from: Japan, South Korea, China, Germany and Ukraine, and to a lesser extent, France and Italy.
In 2009, Greek shipping contributed 13.55 billion Euros to the Greek economy, compared to 19 Euros in 2008, a 29 percent decrease. According to a survey by the University of Piraeus, Greek shipping has created 250,000 positions, comprising over 1 percent of Greece’s 5 million person work force.
The newly appointed Greek Government, elected on October 9, 2010, changed the previously implemented structure of the Ministry of Merchant Marine, and assigned responsibilities to three different ministries, namely, the Ministry of Economy, Competitiveness and Shipping (responsible for coastal shipping and ports), the Ministry of Citizens’ Protection (responsible for the Greek Coast Guard and merchant marine) , and the Ministry of Infrastructure, Communications and Networks (responsible for coastal lines for the Greek islands).
Greece has 123 cargo/passenger ports which handle passenger ships, cruise ships and cargo. The main ports, so-called national ports, are in Piraeus and Thessaloniki (the gateway to the Balkans). Other major ports are Patras, the primary entry point to Italy and Western Europe, Igoumenitsa, Volos, Iraklion in Crete, Kavala, Corfu, Elefsina, Lavrion, Rafina and Alexandroupolis.
The Greek government has opened Greece’s biggest ports, Piraeus and Thessaloniki, to foreign investors. Such opportunities attracted the interest of major Chinese and Arab funds competing for the ports lucrative container transshipment hub, strategically situated at the crossroads of three continents.
The partnership between the Chinese company COSCO and the Piraeus Port Authority initiated in October 2009 for the concession of the development and operation of Piers II & III of the Container Terminal has created a positive climate concerning the future prospects of this venture. It is expected that the privatization of the Thessaloniki Port (the second largest port in Greece) will follow soon.
In addition, the shipbuilding group Abu Dhabi Mar (ADM) has invested in Greek shipbuilding through the acquisition of a majority stake in Hellenic Shipyards S.A., one of the three major shipyards in Greece, along with Elefsis and Neorion shipyards. As of March 4, 2010, the new consortium is headed by ADM, with a 75 percent share and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), which owns the balance.