NEW YORK – The 2nd Annual Hellenic Shipping Industry Panel Discussion presented by EMBCA (East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance) took place at the 3 West Club in Midtown Manhattan on November 30.
The panel of experts discussed the current state of the Hellenic shipping industry which is the largest independent shipping industry in the world as well as its history and prospects for the future. Dr. Anastasios (Tasos) Aslidis- CFO Euroseas Ltd., moderated the discussion which included the panelists Rhode Island State Senator Leonidas P. Raptakis; Konstantine Drougos- Managing Director, Agro Marketing International; Andreas L. Theoharis- Vice President & Chartering Director, Southern Star Shipping Co./Atlantic Bulk Carriers Management Ltd.; and Dr. Kirsi Tikka- Executive Vice President, Global Marine, American Bureau of Shipping Inc.
Among those present at the event were Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras, Olga Bornozi- Managing Director of Capital Link, Argyris Argitakos- AHEPA Delphi Chapter #25 President, Paul Kotrotsios- Hellenic News of America founder and publisher, and Lou Katsos- EMBCA president and founder, who gave the welcoming remarks.
Katsos also announced the formation of a Hellenic Shipping and Friendship Memorial Committee whose objective will be to help erect a monument in downtown Manhattan (working with the appropriate government agencies in identifying the space) that will have two purposes:
1. To commemorate the Hellenic Merchant Marine sailors and Hellenic fleets that were targeted by the Nazis during World War II (Hellenic ships carried most of the supplies for the Allied forces), and 2. To express gratitude to the United States for supporting the creation of the modern Hellenic Merchant Marine fleet through the “Blessed” Liberty ships after the war. This help with Hellenic entrepreneurship in shipping has created what is now the largest merchant fleet in the world, one of the greatest entrepreneurship success stories in modern history.
Consul General Koutras noted his enthusiasm for the Hellenic Shipping and Friendship Memorial project. He offered encouragement for the project which highlights the extraordinary history of friendship between the United States and the Hellenic Republic.
Dr. Aslidis then introduced the panelists who discussed the unique position of Hellas in terms of geography and the thousands of years of history behind shipping and trade that spread across the Mediterranean world from the colonies set up in antiquity to the modern industry. As Drougos noted, “This industry has a past, present, and future.”
Sen. Raptakis thanked the young men from United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY for attending the event and then spoke about his father’s service in the Hellenic Navy and later serving in the United States Army during WWII. He noted that there are only three Liberty Ships left and spoke about his involvement in the efforts to bring one of those ships back to Greece. “In 1940, my father was working on board the passenger ship Nea Hellas and had just reached New York when the Nazis attacked Greece. So, almost by luck, my family emigrated from Andros to America,” Sen. Raptakis said.
On the island of Andros in 2003, shipowner Spyros Polemis approached Raptakis about finding a Liberty Ship and bringing it to Greece. “The obstacles were many – finding the ship, persuading the US administration to give her up, having Congress vote on the corresponding law, cleaning up the ship so that she would be free of chemical substances and, above all, finding the money,” explained Raptakis. “All this cost almost $50 million, which was mostly provided by Greek shipowners, and especially by the late Captain Vassilis Constantakopoulos.”
The Arthur M. Huddell, as the Liberty Ship was known, left the US for Greece on December 6, the feast day of St. Nicholas- the patron saint of sailors, which had also been the date of the delivery of the first ship in 1943. The ship was renamed Hellas Liberty and serves as a maritime museum at Piraeus. The other two remaining Liberty ships, the Jeremiah O’Brien and the John W. Brown are docked in San Francisco and Baltimore, respectively.
Sen. Raptakis noted the importance of honoring the 2,500 Hellenic Merchant Marines who lost their lives during WWII and added that the Hellenic shipping industry could help alleviate the high unemployment rate of Greek youth struggling to find employment today. He mentioned the efforts to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Greece which includes further cooperation among the merchant marine and naval academies of the two nations.
Theoharis spoke about the innovations in the industry, making shipping more energy efficient with the technological advancements that also allow for better tracking and safety than ever before. He added that there are many opportunities in the industry and encouraged more investment in Hellenic shipping.
Dr. Tikka also noted the technological advancements for added energy efficiency and the move towards more automation in the future of shipping.
The panelists were all optimistic about the future and emphasized the importance of increasing awareness of the history and tradition while continuing to support investment in the Hellenic shipping industry.