ATHENS – The men and women of the Hellenic Coast Guard (HCG) “have fully met their founding goal, by standing guard over the Greek seas for over a century,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday night at the Athens Concert Hall, where the HCG’s centennial was celebrated.
“Helpers to our islanders, leaders in the fight against organized crime at sea, first in search and rescue operations, and protectors of the marine environment and its natural beauty” is the way the prime minister described the men and women who have staffed the HCG since its founding.
Also remembering by name some of the staff that died during the call of duty fighting smugglers or saving migrants from drowning round the clock, Mitsotakis also said of the HCG that their particular mission “is both to save the lives of refugees and protect effectively Greece’s sea borders, while also guarding over the country’s national sovereign rights.”
Addressing the event, Theodore Veniamis, representing Greek shipowners, spoke of the supportive services of the Coast Guard to ships under a Greek flag, “during the entire operations of Greek ships, including the protection of Greek seamen.”
Chief of the Coast Guard, Vice Admiral Theodore Kliaris, said that the HCG today employees 7,440 staff for 184 port authorities throughout Greece and 11 academies of the Merchant Marine, among other activities.
“In the last decade alone,” he said, “the HCG responded to over 21,000 incidents, helping out nearly 415,000 individuals, and transported close to 7,600 patients” to mainland hospitals. In the last decade alone, it has helped confiscate over 45 tons of narcotics, over 1.5 billion cigarettes, 421 vehicles and 43 ships.
“The HCG has decisively contributed to the fact the Greek flag is consistently among the first 8 in the world, covering 20 pct of the global (commercial) fleet and 53 pct of the European fleet,” the vice admiral said. “Anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, anywhere any Greek ship and Greek sailor needs help, the Hellenic Coast Guard is there,” he underlined.
Shipping and Island Policy Minister Yiannis Plakiotakis spoke of the key role the HCG plays in managing migration flows, “a large and critical problem both for Greece and for all of Europe,” despite the difficult conditions they often operate under.
He referred to the founding of the coast guard in 1919 by then prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos, who understood the significance of supporting Greek merchant shipping. “The Hellenic Coast Guard does not belong to the Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy; the Hellenic Coast Guard is the Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy,” he concluded.