ATHENS – 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.
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.
The Greek-owned fleet also includes 75 LNG carriers, 144 liquefied petroleum gas carriers, another 133 small dry-bulk carriers, plus many other vessels utilized by the offshore hydrocarbon drilling industry.
Apart from voluntary payments that are a fraction of what they earn, Greek shipowners are the world’s largest in the sector now with 16.72 percent of all the vessels on the seas.
Figures released by Petrofin Research show the tycoons added another 51 ships in 2017, taking their total to 5,230 from the previous year, most flying flags of convenience from other countries so they can avoid paying taxes in their homeland that has been suffering a near eight-year-long economic crisis during which they’ve prospered.
Tonnage tax in Greece exempts the individual and corporate ship owners from income tax liabilities on the profits derived from operating Greek and foreign flagged registered vessels. Domestic shipping companies which operate or manage vessels flying Greek of foreign flags enjoy an exemption from taxes, duties, levies and withholding tax on the distribution of profits or dividends.
In 2015, Greece’s statistics office said shipping contributed around $9 billion – or 4 percent – of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). When you include related business, the industry said, the figure jumps to 7.5 percent of GDP, or about $17 billion a year. Deep-sea shipping and related trades employ more than 192,000 people, it says. That’s 4 percent of all Greek workers.
But a Reuters analysis of corporate filings and economic data suggested shipping’s heroic role in Greece’s economy is largely a myth because the shipowners include in their statistics billions of dollars which never actually enter the Greek economy.
If Greece counted only payments to Greek companies and individuals – as other countries do – the deep-sea shipping industry’s contribution would be equivalent to around 1 percent of GDP.
Some 56 percent of Greece’s shipowners, who proclaim to love their country, would move their headquarters abroad if they could more money elsewhere.
That was the finding of a survey by the international auditing company Ernst & Young entitled Repositioning Greece as a Global Maritime Capital, the newspaper Kathimerini reported.
The study warned there could be an exodus of shipping enterprises, who are worth more than $17 billion or 7 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product even though they pay only a small amount in voluntary taxes.