ATHENS – The Eastern Mediterranean Business Cultural Alliance (EMBCA) drew more than 250 guests to its first event in Greece, which was recently held at the SS Hellas Liberty museum in Piraeus.
Founder and President Lou Katsos, who welcomed guests and moderated the panel discussion, also announced the Hellenic Shipping Memorial that will be located in Manhattan dedicated to Hellenic shipping and sailors, and to Hellenic American friendship.
The panelists who spoke about the history, present, and future of Hellenic Shipping included U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt; Vice Admiral Ioannis Pavlopoulos, recently retired as Commander in Chief of Hellenic Fleet; Aristides J. Pittas, Founder and CEO of Euroseas and EuroDry; Spyros Polemis, Founder Remi Maritime, Despina Panagiotou Theodosiou, CEO of TOTOTHEO, Rhode Island State Senator Lou Raptakis, and Konstantine Drougos, organizer of the event.
Katsos spoke of the importance to Hellenism of spotlighting the historic sacrifice for freedom made by the 2000 Greek merchant seamen who died on the Atlantic during WWII. Greek shipping was decimated making its vital contribution, and out of appreciation and in order to help Greece rebuild under the Marshall Plan, the United States gave 100 vessels to Greece – the HMS Liberty museum being a living symbol of Greece’s appreciation for the “blessed Liberty ships”.
After declaring that “the Greek shipping industry serves as a stabilizing force in the region that is grappling with a range of geo-strategic challenges,” Pyatt said, “I hope this event serves as a reminder of the strong ties between the Greek and American maritime communities, which are a deep and longstanding part of our bilateral relationship. I thank EMBCA for their leadership in that regard.”
Pyatt added that “the Greek Shipping industry serves as a stabilizing force in the region and emphasized the importance of “the first ever delivery U.S. liquefied natural gas to Greece…last December…this is just one example of how Greece and the Unites States will continue to benefit from the strong relationship between our businesses and our governments.”
Pittas summed up the feelings of the Greek shipping families, saying, “I get a lump in my throat whenever I visit the HHS Hellas… without the rebirth of the fleet that was annihilated we might not have a present and a future.”
George Pateras, President of the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping, echoed the appreciation for the past and optimism for the future of the panelists.
It was also a “very moving experience” for Polemis, whose family lost all seven of its ships. Speaking of what became for him a 20-year project, he said “I had a dream to find a Liberty Ship and bring it to Greece.”
Raptakis told the story of that heroic effort to find a Liberty Ship – only three remained – and convert it into a museum linking past, present, and future. He emphasized the contribution of Jim Tampakis, whose company Marine Spares Int’l. performed the miraculous transformation of the SS Arthur M. Huddell, which was in bad shape, illustrated by a slide presentation at the event.
Pavlopoulos noted the tradition of Greece-U.S. strategic cooperation continues, “with the Athens Multinational Sealift Coordination Center, which is a tool in the hands of NATO, the U.S. and the UN for strategic transport.”
Katsos asked Theodosiou, to sketch the future, but she dipped into the past to illustrate that Greek shipowners succeeded by constantly reinventing their companies, which is key to an increasingly technology-driven future.
Drougos’ presentation emphasized that EMBCA and the event aim to “build cultural bridges and foster greater understanding between the United States and Greece, to foster commercial relations, and support entrepreneurship in Greece as the key to a brighter future. Katsos pointed out that the world-class Greek shipping industry is leading the way.
The informative and delightful evening ended with a reception in one of the ships exhibition spaces where guests from related industries could learn about one another’s work and establish friendships – a primary mission of EMBCA.
Among the guests who were very impressed was Yiannis Koukouras, Managing Director of TwelveSec, a major maritime information security consultancy that protects ships from cyber attacks. Kostas Pammachon Dervenis, technology expert, was also impressed and has hopes that “this event strengthens connections between the United States and Greece” – a goal virtually all the guests agreed was achieved.