by Paul Tugwell and Sotiris Nikas
31 Μαΐου 2017, 2:05 π.μ. EEST
The Greek government wants to persuade shipowners and shipping-insurance companies based in London to move their European Union headquarters to Greece as the U.K. prepares to exit the bloc.
“We’re in contact with five large ship-insurance brokers who are considering various EU member countries for the transfer of their headquarters,” Shipping Minister Panagiotis Kouroumblis said in an interview in Piraeus, Greece’s biggest port. Kouroumblis declined to name the firms as the talks are private. “We’ll meet by the latest in June to discuss the terms they’d like in order to choose Greece,” he said.
The government has also asked U.K.-based Greek shipowners to consider returning their headquarters to Greece after Brexit, even though the country can offer little in the way of financial incentives given its tight financial situation, the minister said. Greece will instead attempt to appeal to the shipowners’ patriotism, he said.
Greece is the world’s largest ship-owning nation, accounting for over 16 percent of the global merchant fleet ahead of Japan and China, according to the United Nations. Greek-owned vessels account for 22 percent of the world fleet and 50 percent of the EU’s maritime carrying capacity, Kouroumblis said.
The government wants Piraeus to become “one of the world’s largest shipping centers and a modern maritime cluster,” Kouroumblis said. “We want to create a service center for shipping in Piraeus,” he said.
Shipping contributes around 7 percent to Greece’s economic output, and the government also wants to boost shipping-related activities like vessel repair and sees opportunities from cruise operations and yachting at regional ports, especially for so-called home porting, where cruises begin and end at a given harbor, Kouroumblis said.
Greece hosted over 4 million cruise ship passengers in 2015, making it the third-most popular destination in Europe after Italy and Spain. Direct spending from cruise activities brought in 489 million euros ($547 million), according to the latest data from the Cruise Lines International Association.
Since Greece needs to improve infrastructure to accommodate new ships with capacity of more than 4,000 passengers, the government will ask cruise operators “to invest in those ports that interest them in return for incentives, including favorable port fee arrangements,” Kouroumblis said. There’s already interest in Santorini, Lavrio and Katakolon, he said. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, MSC Cruises SA and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd all feature Santorini on their summer schedules.
The shipping ministry is also working with the Hellenic Capital Markets Commission to attract Greek shipowners to the Athens exchange, rather than other bourses, to issue a bond. There’s interest from two or three large Greek shipping companies, Kouroumblis said. “We’ll perhaps see the first such bond issue in September.”