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Greek owners call for EU relief for shipping

Report also underlines support for Brussels’ ‘Green Deal’ but hammers bloc’s emissions trading scheme proposals as inappropriate for shipping

Shipping companies are ‘beating heart’ of broader European maritime cluster, say Greeks, but need ship finance options from within the European Union to maintain strategic role

GREEK shipowners have urged the European Union to provide financial aid to help them through the crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The EU should help shipping companies retain their liquidity for the continuation of their essential services through this crisis and during the subsequent recovery,” said the Union of Greek Shipowners in annual report.

The report describes shipping companies as the “beating heart” of Europe’s wider maritime cluster.

The union is also calling for amortisation deferrals and repayment suspensions for shipping loans, as well as protection in cases of default under loan agreements.

A suitable time period for loan repayment holidays was 18 months, it suggested.

It said that since the EU shipping industry is dominated by private, family-owned businesses reliant on bank lending rather than capital markets, a strong European ship finance sector needs to be preserved.

This would help keep shipping companies in Europe and enable them to maintain “their role as the beating heart of the broader EU maritime cluster”.

On the other hand, “introducing further restrictive measures and increased capital requirements in an already limited ship finance system… would seriously damage the EU shipping industry’s prospects”, it warned.

Instead, the EU “should aim at adopting comprehensive and concrete financing policies” tailored to the sector’s special characteristics that would “ensure a global level playing field”.

UGS president Theodore Veniamis said: “As responsible citizens, we support the ‘European Green Deal’ and the European Commission’s vision for the protection of life and the environment.”

He said those objectives should not be substituted by revenue-generating policies and “considerations of a purely regional economic nature” — as the UGS contends is the case with proposals to extend the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to shipping.

According to the union, problems encountered with legislation on new low-sulphur fuels that came into force this year should act as a warning of “what needs to be avoided” in adopting measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions from ships.

The EU ETS would undermine the industry global regulatory framework and the International Maritime Organization’s efforts, the UGS said.

“The ETS is not appropriate for shipping and would lead to a host of unintended consequences, including market distortion, carbon leakage and a modal shift from sea to road,” said the report.

Greek owners say there is little chance of hitting decarbonisation targets without new innovative fuels.

Backing the quest to develop such fuels, the industry’s International Maritime Research Fund, to be funded by shipping companies to the tune of $5bn over 10 years, was “more timely than ever”, the UGS said.

In the shorter term, the UGS supports a measure to limit main engine power that, it said, “will yield immediate results”.

Although Mr Veniamis dwelt on a litany of challenges the shipping industry is facing, he noted that Greek shipping historically had managed to emerge stronger from times of crisis.

He noted recent moves in Greece to improve the national flag’s competitiveness and stop flagging-out, while making it easier to train and recruit Greek seafarers.

This promised to give “a new impetus and dynamics to the Greek register,” he said.

Earnings from maritime transport contributed €17.3bn ($20.4bn) to the Greek economy last year, a rise of 4%, the UGS said.

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