By Yannis Marinos
Most are multi-millionaires, yet they are people of ceaseless hard work, with a palpable love of country, who came in numbers to this venerable meeting hall of the Laskaridis Foundation in Piraeus. They welcomed the invitation of the emblematic magazine Naftika Chronika and of the Bissias family, which has continued in the finest manner its nearly century-old vibrant tradition. The occasion was the awarding of the Efkrantis Prizes. What characterised the gathering was the simplicity of those who long ago achieved international predominance in – the ceaselessly exposed to low barometric pressures – ocean-faring shipping, the envied and thus hated ship-owning class.
The often sea-drowned skippers managed to achieve a long-term record: a steady first place in Merchant Marine shipping. Because no one is a prophet in his own land, they too are not tolerated in the land that bore them. Instead of being proud of those who created the most dynamic sector of the Greek economy and viewing them as an example, we view them as pirates who earn tax-free money lawlessly and squander it on a luxurious lifestyle, without offering anything to the people. Even our seamen are viewed as an example of hard-working citizens, but the state does not promote them so as to bolster the employment of thousands of unemployed in the shipping industry, with the lure of their high pay. Instead, it downgrades seamen’s training and has pillaged the once strong ΝΑΤ seamen’s insurance fund, through an unholy alliance with trade unionists.
What is the cause of this hatred, beyond envy? The cause is that it is the only productive sector in the economy that is internationally competitive and operates without subsidies and protectionist state crutches. It offers an annoying daily reminder that shipowners, though Greek, achieved the shipping miracle unaided by the state, without the support of Greek banks, and with the stiff competition of commercial fleets from all the countries of the world, including the wealthiest and most powerful.
It is living proof of the failure of broad swathes of the rest of Greek society, and a provocation for the average Greek, who believes that he cannot survive without state protection, without subsidies, without connections, and without the coddling of the state and politicians. Indeed, it also disputes theories of international conspiracies that battle anything that is Greek.
As the late Georgios Papandreou said sorrowfully, “Unfortunately ships have propellers and leave [the Greek flag].”
Hence, our shipping cannot be hindered from becoming competitive, as was “accomplished” at the expense of our industry, for example. You see, it is not dependent on the Greek state and the despotism of political parties. They cannot render our ocean-faring shipping problematic, as they managed to do in almost every other productive sector of the country.
A third reason is that the almighty – and dominated by political parties – labour unions find it impossible to manipulate shipping activity, and to tie ocean-faring ships to the docks and stage occupations of vessels, as they do with coastal ships, so that the state and unions can be forced into subjugation. Fortunately.