ATHENS - Greece’s essentially tax-free shipping tycoons, prospering during their country’s eight-year-long economic and austerity crisis, are building up their world’s largest fleet and showing the flag - not of Greece, but those of convenience from other countries.
Greek shipowners remained at the top of the chart for buyers of second-hand ships over the first quarter of the year, with Allied Shipbroking, a Greek company, reporting that the shipowners bought another 65 vessels at a cost of more than $900 million from January-March out of 414 ocean-going ships sold during that time.
Data show that Greek-owned companies acquired 45 dry bulk carriers, 15 tankers, six container ships and one liquefied gas carrier, Kathimerini said in a report about the growing acquisitions.
The second biggest buyers after the Greeks were the Chinese who invested $607 million dollars in 53 ships, followed by the Germans who bought 43 vessels for some $272 million as the Greek fleet, which prefers to use flags from other countries so it can avoid paying taxes to its homeland, still ruling the waves.
A large part of the investments Greek shippers made in used vessels was funded by the sale of older or other types of ships, by ship-breaking revenues and through borrowing, the paper said, with many big Greek tankers, built in the early 1990s, going to Asian scrap yards to be taken apart.
RIDING THE CREST
Greek tycoons who control the world’s largest shipping fleet – and are untaxed in their country during a crushing economic crisis – have seen the worth of their holdings soar to $99.589 billion, as estimated by VesselsValue.
Despite their vast wealthy, they remain largely behind the scenes in Greece where they have furiously fought attempts to be taxed and warned they would leave if any government tried to make them do so, squelching Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’ vow to “Crush the oligarchy” and tax the rich.
The estimate showed that $36 billion of the total is in tankers, $35.75 billion dry-bulk carriers and $13.5 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers, Kathimerini said in a report on the survey, adding that the fleet however has heavy borrowing liabilities of more than half the ships’ worth.
The Japanese-controlled fleet ranks second, at $89.122 billion, while the Chinese-owned fleet is third, at $83.544 billion, based on figures recorded at the end of 2017 that showed a giant jump over the previous year as the magnates continued to prosper as their country suffered.
“The strong commitment of Greek shipowners in the global shipping markets appears unlikely to change, while others, such as Germany, are liquidating assets. The trend in Chinese ownership is rising as state-owned companies are consolidating and placing new orders. This is a reminder that there are always new suitors for the throne of maximum market value,” VesselsValue said in February.
According to VesselsValue, the merchant fleet that Greek shipowners control amounts to 4,574 ships, of which 50 percent comprises large dry-bulk carriers, 33 percent tankers and 9 percent container ships.