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Cablegate: Greek Shippers Drowning in the Wake of Economic Pressures

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTH #2064/01 3241613
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 201611Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1116
INFO RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS

UNCLAS ATHENS 002064

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON PHSA KPIR CH GR
SUBJECT: Greek Shippers Drowning in the Wake of Economic Pressures

REF: ATHENS 1611; ATHENS 1581

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. A seafaring nation for millennia, the
resilience of the Greek shipping industry is being tested seriously
for the first time since it rose to modern prominence in the 1960s.
As the global economic crisis continues, and the demographics of
international trade shift, the Greek shipping industry is straining
to maintain its global status. EconOffs attended the 3rd annual
Greek Shipping Summit on November 3, and the 9th annual Navigator
conference on November 4, where it was clear that Greek shippers
are feeling increasing pressure on multiple fronts, including:
increased piracy; new environmental, safety, and labor regulations;
China's expanding role in the industry; and recent changes in
domestic political portfolios. How the Greek shipping industry
addresses these challenges will impact the transport of U.S.
exports-25 percent of which are carried by Greek-owned ships. END
SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Greece controls the world's largest merchant fleet in
terms of dead weight tons (DWT), with 4960 vessels-33 percent of
which are Greek-flagged. (Note: Greek-flagged vessels make up
approximately 6 percent of the world total. End Note.) The
industry employs 250,000 individuals (though few Greeks), and
includes 25,000 seafarers and 1200 shipping companies. Second only
to tourism, shipping contributed 18 billion Euro to the Greek
economy in 2008, and shipping receipts account for approximately
6-8 percent of Greece's GDP. As a result of the recent global
economic crisis, Greece's shipping income fell 31.3 percent in the
first eight months of 2009, and shippers are bracing for the
situation to get worse before it gets better.

------------------------------

Piracy's Economic Toll

------------------------------

3. (SBU) Stelios Drakakis, Head of the Marine Insurance Division
of ISB Hellas, reported that piracy has cost the global shipping
industry an estimated 16 billion USD. He noted that there have
been 309 attacks (at least 10 of which were against Greek-owned
ships) by pirates in the first nine months of 2009-more than all of
2008. With attacks on the rise and average ransom payments at 1
million USD, the industry is struggling to combat this financial
drain on both shipping companies and government coffers alike.
Egypt's Suez Canal revenues, for instance, are projected to fall
from 5 billion USD in 2008 to 3.1 billion USD in 2010.

4. (SBU) Most Greek shippers support current International
Maritime Organization (IMO) piracy guidelines, but many continue to
debate best practices for mitigating the threat of piracy now and
in the future. Some in the industry are lobbying for the Gulf of
Aden to be declared a "Naval War Zone" and for international forces
in the Gulf to conduct operations against the pirates. This would
affect any insurance clauses with "war exclusions." Currently,
most general maritime insurance policies cover piracy, but
individual underwriters often remove it, thereby creating the need
for supplemental war risk insurance and increasing the cost to
transport goods.

5. (SBU) Greek shippers have been open with us about the
possibility of Greece signing the New York Declaration on best
practices for merchant vessel self protection, but the GoG is
resisting (see reftel A). Greece is, however, an active
participant in the Contact Group.

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------
--------

Companies Struggling with Strength of Shipyard Capacity

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------
--------

6. (SBU) As demand for drybulk and other cargo declines alongside
global GDP, the industry is facing an oversupply of shipyard
capacity. With the recent decline in available credit, and most
shipping companies over-leveraged, many are seeking to cancel or
renegotiate the price of previously ordered ships. According to
Philip Embiricos, former president of the Baltic and International
Maritime Council (BIMCO), more than 50 percent of deliveries
scheduled for 2010 and later are still without secured financing.
Michael Bodouroglou, CEO of Paragon Shipping, stressed that 77
percent of the world order book would need to be cancelled to bring
supply and demand to the ideal equilibrium (with a 10 percent
difference). Shippers are concerned that even without financing,
shipyards will continue to fill all outstanding orders to maintain
shipyard employment. Though politicians do not agree, Embiricos
argued that industry representatives should pressure governments to
cut shipyard capacity.

--------------------------------------------- -------------------

The Struggle to Accommodate New Regulations

--------------------------------------------- -------------------

7. (SBU) Greek ship owners are hoping that the UN Climate Change
Conference does not yield what they perceive to be extreme
restrictions on their emissions. International shipping currently
accounts for 2.7 percent of global CO2 emissions, and without a
change in practice, shipping CO2 emissions will reach 7,000 million
tons per year in coming years (38 percent of the global CO2 cap
according to Copenhagen plans). Implementing additional
restrictions on this industry, however, will be difficult, as ship
owners already consider themselves held to unfairly high emissions
standards, with some arguing that EU environmental regulations and
emissions standards should either be abolished or financially
subsidized by the government. For the last several years, Greek
shippers have looked to the United States as an ally against
excessive EU environmental positions in the IMO. Fearing a shift
in U.S. support, several recently traveled to Washington to take
the pulse of congressional staff.

8. (SBU) Other new regulations affecting the industry include new
tugboat safety regulations proposed by the United States for U.S.
harbors, which will subject tugboats (previously uninspected) to
formal safety inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard. The regulations
are expected to be in place by January 2010, but will be open for
industry comment beforehand.

9. (SBU) The Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) of 2006 is expected
to be in place by December 2011, after most European countries
ratify it in 2010. Vessels over 500GT engaged in international
shipping will be required to carry a Maritime Labor Certificate,
which attests to the working and living conditions of the vessel
and compliance with flag state laws. All flag states will have to
review current national legislation to ensure MLC compliance.

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China's Position in the Changing Shipping Demographic

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------

10. (SBU) China's role in the shipping industry-direct and
indirect-mirrors its rising position in the global economy. As
Chinese domestic construction expands as a result of its rapidly
growing and competitive economy, its demand for iron ore imports
and related shipping services also is increasing. Shifting labor
demographics mean that Chinese demand for imported energy and
construction materials will increasingly be met by ships manned by
Chinese seafarers. Greek fleets have used primarily Filipino,
Chinese, Indian, and Ukrainian seafarers, but the pool of available
seafarers is ageing, with a general shift away from the profession
everywhere except China. Though the number of Filipino workers in
the global market is steadily increasing (many going to the Middle
East), the number of Filipino seafarers is also declining. As a
result, China is likely to displace the Philippines as the next

largest supplier of seafarers. Greece has not been successful in
attracting its own youth into the merchant marine and is
contemplating how to make the sector more attractive to Greek
graduates and recent immigrants to Greece who suffer from high
unemployment.

11. (SBU) Conference participants were also seized with China's
increasing role in shipbuilding. China recently surpassed South
Korea as the world's largest shipbuilder, with 34.7 percent of the
market. China has a comparative advantage as a result of its cheap
labor and availability of land to expand shipyards, and it has
gained additional market share by offering generous loan terms to
foreign buyers and domestic shipbuilders. The Chinese also have
started to purchase some of the shipyard overstock that Greek and
other western European ship owners cannot absorb given the current
lower cargo demand. These ships are purchased cheaply and
immediately incorporated into the Chinese shipping fleet, according
to Denis Petropolis of Braemer Seascope.

12. (SBU) On shore, Beijing-based China Ocean Shipping Company
(COSCO) has secured a 35-year concession to manage one of two
existing terminals and to rebuild a third terminal at Piraeus,
Greece's largest port and the top container port in the eastern
Mediterranean. This controversial 4.3 billion Euro deal between
COSCO and the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP), which will expand
Greece's role in Mediterranean shipping and transport, sparked a
series of recent strikes by Greek dockworkers that cost businesses
and the Greek government tens of millions of Euro in lost revenue
(see reftel B). Despite the labor tensions, China is not backing
away from the terms of the deal, and the GoG has said it will
enforce its terms.

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Shipping Takes a Hit in the Reshuffle of Ministries

--------------------------------------------- ---------------------

13. (SBU) Following Greece's October 2009 elections, and the
installation of a PASOK government, the Ministry of Mercantile
Marine, Aegean Sea and Island Policy was split up, with commercial
shipping issues now falling under the Ministry of Economy,
Competitiveness, and Shipping. Industry representatives are
clearly annoyed at the change, and sense that their issues might
get less attention than they have been accustomed to. One of the
conference speakers even argued that the industry should "revolt"
against the dismantling of the Ministry of Mercantile Marine. That
Minister Louka Katseli cancelled her keynote address to the
Navigator conference at the last minute did not help, and was noted
by one of the speakers.

14. (SBU) Comment: Greece's shipping industry is facing a diverse
set of new challenges at a time when the global economic crisis is
already dampening shipping demand. Greek shippers are confident
that they will weather this storm, but their role as the industry
giant could erode in the long-term as China and other new actors
offer competitive alternatives and expand their presence in the
sector. With 25 percent of U.S. exports being moved by Greek-owned
ships, how Greek shippers address these challenges, and whether
they do so successfully, will affect the nature of how U.S. goods
are moved to international markets.
Speckhard

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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