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Greek shipowners back on edge as govt wins confidence vote

Greek shipowners back on edge as govt wins confidence vote
Greece's shipping community is back on the edge of its seats, waiting to see what is in store for it after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' government comfortably won a confidence vote early 8 October, signaling the start of an avalanche of reforms and measures as Athens prepares for a crucial first review of its international bailout.

Tsipras won the backing of all 155 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament who support his radical left-right coalition, but his parliamentary group will be tested in the coming weeks as votes on reforms, tax hikes and pension cuts take place.

Two members of the governing Syriza / Independent Greeks coalition have already indicated they are far from happy with the planned reforms Athens has promised to implement in exchange for the EUR86bn ($98bn). It wants the first review to be wrapped up soon so it can start talks on serious debt relief before the end of the year.

Before this, reforms must be enacted to qualify for Euro 3bn of bailout aid and to free-up EUR25bn to recapitalise the country's banks, essential for the home-based shipping industry to function properly.

"We will quickly pass the hurdle of the first review, we will conclude the big issues of the bank re-capitalisation and the debt and we will proceed at a measured pace to change Greece," Tsipras told parliament.

Indeed, the first set of 48 reforms need to be turned into law by 15 October. The premier has promised to find ways to ease the social pain the bailout will entail for the poorest Greeks and has vowed to find alternative measures for some of the unpopular policies sought by creditors.

Finding alternatives ways to ease the pain is what is worrying the shipping community as European creditors have made it plain they believe shipping must pay higher taxes.

Thus shipping is bracing itself as an overhaul of its existing tax regime is certain. Just how sweeping this reform will be remains to be seen, though the threat of companies relocating from their home-base is very much evident should operating in Greece put owners and indeed, back-up services, at a competitive disadvantage.

The wooing of Greek companies by off-shore administrations continues. Much of the courting is being carried out by administrations already well-known to Greeks, but some of the pretenders are not so well known.

The Bahamas flag administration was presenting itself as "the flag of choice" on 6 October. The Bahamas already has some 250 Greek-controlled ships of over 10m dwt trading under its flag and it thus comes as no surprise it is keen to grow this number. More surprising is the appearance on the scene of the Luxembourg Maritime Cluster, which has already booked space at Posidonia 2016, to be held next June.

Meanwhile there is the privatisation of the Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports. The government has vowed the sell-off of Piraeus will move forward immediately, but the process faces court challenges and there is the fear the longer the sell-off saga goes on, the less interest there will be on the part of potential buyers.

Economy and Development minister Giorgos Stathakis, says the sale of the state's controlling stake in Piraeus port "will proceed as has been agreed" by the government. However, a government spokesman says the process of calling binding bids will be delayed about 20 days because the recent election has delayed the Shipping and Finance ministries scrutiny of documents.