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The indispensability of the Greek-owned fleet: international and cross-trading

Greek shipowners control more than 20% of the global merchant fleet, in terms of deadweight tonnes – dwt (Figure 1), making Greece the world’s largest shipowning nation. The Greek-controlled merchant fleet is not only the largest in the world, but it is also dynamic, exhibiting steady growth. Over the past decade, the total capacity of the Greek merchant fleet, comprising of 5,543 ships, has seen a 53.5% increase.

In fact, the Greek-owned fleet is the largest crosstrader in the world, moving cargoes between third countries with over 98% of its capacity. The international, cross-trading character of Greek shipping, together with its size, render it indispensable for global trade.

Greek shipping is predominantly engaged in the bulk/tramp sector. This specialises in transporting staples such as grains and agricultural products, oil and gas, iron, bauxite, alumina and other ores, coal, fertilisers, steel, chemical and forest products. It, therefore, transports essential goods which are necessary for the survival and well-being of the populations around the world. With the bulk/tramp sector being inherently itinerant and flexible in nature, the Greek-controlled fleet is highly responsive to changing or new trading areas and patterns.

Τhe bulk/tramp sector comprises thousands of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). It also still operates in an almost perfectly competitive market, with shipowners being price-takers with regard to the price of each individual transportation contract. This is because of the large number of shipping companies participating in the bulk cargo trades. According to recent data4 there are about 4,700 companies in the tanker sector owning 3.6 vessels on average and almost 2,500 bulk carrier owners holding 5 vessels on average.

This business model, together with technological innovations and the implementation of energy efficiency measures, has helped contain transport costs to the benefit of end-consumers worldwide. This can be illustrated by the fact that shipping is the most affordable mode of transport, with the real cost of moving cargo by sea falling significantly over the decades.

Shipping has ensured very low transportation costs over the past decades

It is expected, however, that in the future it will become increasingly difficult to attain such low transport costs, as shipping will need to move towards the use of alternative low- or zero- carbon marine fuels with a high price differential from traditional fossil fuels. Recent data show that conventional fossil fuels for marine use can be up to 5-6 times cheaper than biofuels and 10-12 times cheaper than synthetic fuels.

Compared to other modes of transport, shipping is 4 times more energy efficient than road transport and 116 times more energy efficient than air transport.

Greek shipowners have been a major force behind this trend, as they have been constantly investing in new, larger and more efficient vessels. Currently, the Greek orderbook stands at 384 vessels with a total capacity of 34 million dwt, recording a substantial rise compared to previous years. In relation to 2023, the orderbook is higher by 60% in terms of vessels’ number and by 79% in terms of deadweight capacity, while compared to 2021 it is almost four times higher in terms of vessels’ number and more than two times in terms of deadweight capacity.

Apart from ordering larger vessels – the average capacity of a Greek-owned vessel currently on order is 88,748 dwt compared to 62,237 dwt for the world fleet – these vessels are also fitted with state-of-the-art environmental equipment (Figure 8). Greek shipowners continue to invest in an increasingly modern and environmentally friendly fleet.

The Νational Perspective

Shipping is the most international sector and a core pillar of the Greek economy. Its direct and indirect impact on the Greek economy is esti – mated to be between 6.5% to 8% of Gross Domes – tic Product (GDP). Greek shipowners also make investments in the Greek economy beyond ship – ping in various sectors such as technology, ser – vices, real estate and tourism. In addition, Greek shipowners have through the years been making significant social welfare donations.

Apart from generating hundreds of thousands of jobs directly and indirectly, sea transport con – sistently contributes billions of euros annually to the country’s current account balance. During the last 20 years currency inflows from shipping have surpassed 263 billion euros, mitigating the country’s trade deficit. Furthermore, Greek shipping serves as the foundation for a flourish – ing maritime services sector in Greece, attract – ing investments, talent and fostering innovation. Being the world’s largest cross trader (Figure 12), Greek shipping is a strategic asset for the country.
Source: Union of Greek Shipowners

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