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What lies in store for Greek shipping now the opposition has won the election

What lies in store for Greek shipping now the opposition has won the election
In the run-up to Greece’s 25 election the winning national opposition party Syriza unveiled its clearest indication of what lies in store fort shipping should it be asked to form a government. A week before the key the election took place Seatrade Global's Greece correspondent David Glass examined what Syriza's victory would mean to the country's shipping sector.

Greece's left-wing anti-austerity coalition, will seek a bigger contribution from shipping to the economy as well as apply a greater degree of control over a range of shipping-related sectors. It has vowed to retain the industry’s cherished Shipping portfolio, but has fallen short of confirming it will be a standalone ministry.

Indeed, while Greek shipping has been preparing for the likelihood Syriza and its leader Alexis Tsipras, born in Athens 28 July 1974, three days after the fall of the Greek military junta, will top conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the party’s shipping policy has largest been undefined, and this has caused much anxiety in the shipping community.

Comments made the party’s shipping spokesman, Piraeus MP Theodore Dritsas at the annual New Year gathering hosted by the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping, did little to allay shipping’s concerns. Indeed, they were disconcerting for many in the audience, whether shipowner, seafarer, or industry professional.

“Whatever we plan must be in the context of what Greek society is going through,” said Dritsas, referring to the country’s struggles over the past six years. He said shipping, as Greece’s most productive sector, should be prepared to “lift the heaviest possible burden” to help the country out of its crisis.

Dritsas said Syriza was opposed to the privatisation of the port of Piraeus, declaring the sale of a controlling interest in the port authority would mean allowing powerful outside interests to gain a foothold.

This is bad new for China and its shipping giant Cosco, which operates two booming container terminals in the Greek port, has made no secret it is keen to take the 67% stake in the Piraeus Port Authority presently in the hands of the government and set to be sold. Beijing, which sees Piraeus as a key hub in its drive to improve trade into central and eastern Europe, has just agreed to invest $300m in expanding its container terminals.

Dritsas’ indication the Shipping Ministry could be lumped together with another portfolio, as happened a few years ago, under the previous socialist government and provoking a great reaction from the shipping community, was especially upsetting as the indications to now had been, a standalone ministry would be kept in place to run the world’s largest most powerful fleet.

Saying unemployment in the ranks of Greek seafarers is a problem that could lead to the loss of knowledge and seamanship skills, he called for publicly funded marine education. Dritsas also called for Greece’s passenger shipping network to be put under public control, saying it cannot survive as it is currently structured. In both cases previous attempts to have the state run maritime education and the ferry sector have failed.

Dritsas also said his party considered business profits should be more fairly distributed, without going into any detail how this could be done. Indeed, shipping people have been meeting with Syriza officials, and taxation is said to be high on the agenda. There are fears a Syriza-led government will try to tax shipping, disregarding the existing agreed doubling of tonnage as well as the losses companies have incurred in the recent years.

Dritsas was critical of “non-traditional profit-driven funds” which have helped finance growth and modernisation of the fleet as traditional bank finance dried up. He admitted an incoming Greek government might have limited means to intervene in what is an international trend, but said: “Even there we hope to take measures.”

Addressing Dritsas, Hellenic Chamber president, George Gratsos summed up the general feeling when he said: “The heart is on the left, the wallet is on the right. The mind, though, is in the middle and somehow it has to provide a balance.”