Shipping: Hellenism’s age-old global power

The history of Greek shipping cannot be measured in years, or in decades, or even in centuries. It is measured truly in millennia. It would not, therefore, be possible in the framework of this special, historical edition, to go back to its beginnings. Hence, we focused on the 20th century, which was one of the most critical, decisive, and interesting in this entire journey.

By George P. Malouchos

The history of Greek shipping cannot be measured in years, or in decades, or even in centuries. It is measured truly in millennia. It would not, therefore, be possible in the framework of this special, historical edition, to go back to its beginnings. Hence, we focused on the 20th century, which was one of the most critical, decisive, and interesting in this entire journey.

That is because it was in the 20th century that Greek shipping on the one hand came of age with such force, stability and success that it was led to its current level, and on the other hand, because it was during this period that today’s predominant shipping institutions were born, such as the Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS), which was established in 1916. It was in this period also that Greek shipping’s links with free Greece were organised and institutionalised, after the long and tortuous process of national unification was completed in 1947, with the annexation of the Dodecanese islands.

Yet, there is another reason that renders it important today for us to look back at our history. By looking back, peoples with a long history look forward. To quote Winston Churchill: “A nation that forgets its past has no future.”

The rise to predominance

Our history counts. It is meaningful. The history of Greek shipping is of cardinal importance, because it is there that one discovers the struggles, the hopes, and the roots of what grew into a mighty tree. This last century of the many centuries and millennia of Hellenism and its shipping was in many ways one of the most important, as it was essentially the era in which it established its predominance.

That perspective on the things that shaped us is what the historical nature of this special insert serves. It looks back at yesteryear to discern in the future all that is hidden in its foundations and determines it.

It was during this period that Greek shipping reached its unprecedented global levels, which are so clearly reflected in the unique relationship of Hellenism with the sea. It is a relationship that explains how a nation of slightly over 10 million people is totally dominant in the world’s oceans. It was in the last 50 years, largely through “Posidonia”, that this dominance was systematically projected internationally, and that Greece every two years became the incomparable pole of attraction of the global shipping community.

Incomparable international accomplishment

One single fact alone suffices to highlight the importance of the 20th century for Greek shipping, which grew gradually, along with the rest of Greece. As one will see in his 1916 interview that follows, the great liberator of the Eastern Aegean and great hero of the Balkan Wars, Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis, notes that at that time Greek shipping

represented two percent of international shipping. He extolled it not primarily for its economic significance, but rather due to its contribution to national struggles.

Today, one century later, Greek shipping represents 20 percent of global shipping. What other sector in any country of the world can present an accomplishment that even approaches that? Yet, as on will see in this extremely important historical document, then just as today, the type of skewed and thoughtless perceptions called on us to shed found fertile ground once again.

If Hellenism were to have an epigram that would be the distillate of all that made it great in history, that could not but be “Open Horizons” – open to the quest, spirit, action, creation, discovery, and the great questions and challenges which all great civilisations in all eras and places where humanity created all that justifies its name – anthropos, that being which looks upward – were confronted.

If one were to seek that epigram in contemporary Greece, as a continuation of its age old history, which once determined not only its own course but that of the world, one could not discern it anywhere more intensely than in its shipping. It is that force which allows this country today to hold in its hands the top position internationally, representing approximately 20 percent of the global fleet, exemplifying both metaphorically and literally those horizons in the contemporary world. Whenever Hellenism and Greece lived with openness, they achieved great things. Whenever they denied that openness, they essentially denied their very selves, and shrank. Shipping was and remains one of the most palpable and vital expressions of that openness.

It is for that reason that it found its unique place not only in reconstructing the country in difficult times, but also in its art – popular and highbrow – in its folklore, in its mores and ethos, and in the shaping of its holistic identity through the centuries. Shipping, Hellenism, and Greece are inextricably connected concepts.

The pulse of the planet beats in Greece

Defying the storms and rough seas of both the actual and the contemporary “economic” oceans, Hellenism managed to become the greatest shipping force in the world. That is perhaps because, as the bearer of a living, continuous tradition of thousands of years, it never feared.

On the contrary, adversity always provoked the Greeks. Where many others would have flinched, Greek seamanship led the way as a trailblazer. It was not only Greek shipowners, but above all Greek captains and seamen, who, marshaling their experience, knowledge, keen judgment, and professionalism, along with passion, ethos, and quick-mindeness, managed always to go the extra mile. It was thus that this unique achievement was reached and preserved in an increasingly difficult and competitive environment.

The significance of ‘Posidonia’

These open horizons have been steadily confirmed every two years over half a century by “Posidonia”. It is not merely an exhibition or a social event, as some may believe. It is a gathering of forces of global reach, the most important of its kind internationally, the likes of which one cannot find anywhere else.

Certainly, it is more broadly the top international event that takes place regularly in Greece. It is in a sense a particular pilgrimage of the entire world towards that which is represented by the values and existential code of Hellenism, as regards the openness and thirst of a free humanity to go ever further.

Thus, once again this year, for five days, from 4-8 June, the seafaring pulse of the planet will beat in Greece.

“Posidonia” has long been the most stable and largest shipping exhibition in the world, and it confers multiple advantages to Greece. As the organisers note indicatively, the exhibition promotes the achievements of Greek shipping and of the unique quality of Greek seamanship. It is a platform for information on the latest developments in global shipping. It is where companies choose to present their new products, the most contemporary technologies, and the latest trends in shipping.

It is estimated that each exhibition leaves behind over 60 million euros for the country, both from the 10,000 visitors that come to Greece every two years, strongly bolstering tourism in Athens and beyond, and from the agreements that are concluded in the exhibition itself.

A Greek initiative launched the exhibition in 1965, and it was first held in Zappeion Hall in 1969. Since 1970, it has been organised every two years. In 1976, it was moved to Piraeus, to the passenger station of the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP), and contributed decisively to the global promotion of the city as an international shipping hub. As of 2006, it was held at the Hellinikon Exhibition Centre, and since 2012 it has been organised at the Metropolitan Expo, at Athens’ Eleftherios Venizelos’ international Airport.

In 2016, “Posidonia” attracted 1,825 participants from 90 countries, 22,366 visitors from 101 countries, and 19 national participations with large booths. In total, 33,512 exhibitors, visitors, and journalists participated. Deals worth millions of dollars were concluded during the exhibition, with agreements and memorandums signed between the governments of seafaring nations and between shipping companies

Participants, exhibitors, and visitors, represent Greece and the international shipping industry, covering the entire gamut of shipping related activities: shipyards, shipping agents, insurance organisations, banks, port authorities, shipping registers, ship inspectors, shipping provisions procurers, hi-tech office equipment procurers, technical support companies, and publishing companies.

“It should be noted that “Posidonia” is the sole Greek exhibition that each time receives a Trade Fair Certification from the US Department of Commerce, which constitutes a direct recommendation from the US Government for American companies to participate in the exhibition.

“Posidonia 2018” is expected to be exactly what befits an institution that next year will celebrate its 50th anniversary – the largest and most important exhibition in its history, exceeding the success of 2016, and taking place in a host country that is an internationally dominant force, with over 4,400 ships valued at over 22 billion dollars, and which is constantly growing due to constant investments in cutting edge technological and economic projects.

The course of a century

“Posidonia” is held every two years, and this is the 49th exhibition. By the next exhibition in 2020, it will have been conducted for over half a century. That is why it was deemed proper to already speak of a half century of “Posidonia”, as the exhibition will not be held in 2019.

In order to attach to this special collectors’ anniversary publication in To Vima, the weight and added value that it merits, we went even further back than the first “Posidonia” exhibition. Why? It is because the exhibition’s establishment was the result and outcome of a long historical evolution that is linked to the course of Greek shipping throughout the tumultuous 20th century.

Greek shipping, as the reader of this publication will see analytically, was always dynamically and effectively present in the national struggles of Hellenism and of Greece. In the 20th century, after a series of national and global wars in which Greece played a leading role, and after periods of a dark triple occupation, and following the tragic internecine struggles and extensive destruction which all that left behind for a long time, from the mid-1950’s the country entered a process of stabilisation and total reconstruction.

It was then that for the first time in its history of thousands of years that globalised Greek shipping began to discuss the systematic “repatriation” of a large segment of its activity, as well as its novel institutional organisation, in cooperation with the Greek state.

It was then that the large investments that were made in Greece, largely by the Greek shipping establishment, began to change the face of the country.

Through these investments, Greek shipowners, either through their new ships and thousands of jobs that they offered at sea and on land, or through other productive activities of modernisation and development, “return” dynamically to Greece, offering a decisive breath of life, work, and development to a land that for decades was battered by war and disasters.

It was then that Piraeus gradually increased its power as a main international shipping centre.

Although it is not adequately known to its full extent, the contribution of Greek seamanship to the modernisation of the Greek economy and society in that crucial period of reconstruction was decisive. It is a period in which, after so many adventures, Greek shipping can for the first time fulfil an abiding desire: to lay its foundations in its own land.

It was through the tumultuous course of the 20th century that Greek shipping, through arduous struggles, became able to occupy today and constantly expand its top position in the world.

“Posidonia” came as the natural evolution of the long, aforementioned path. It is that entire cohesive – but even today largely invisible to many in its size and significance – course that this publication attempts to examine. For our purposes, and in order to be able to reconstruct that long, historic chain of events – as regards both the history of Greek shipping in the 20th century and the creation of “Posidonia” – we marshaled the most trustworthy and varied material, which permits a pluralistic approach to the issues involved.

The texts concern both “Posidonia” itself and the history of the Greek Merchant Marine from the beginning of the 20th century until the outbreak of WWII, including texts from the historic magazine Naftika Chronika (Naval Chronicles), and by retired Vice Admiral Ioannis Paloumbis, a top historical researcher and author on issues pertaining to the Hellenic Navy and Merchant Marine, regarding the decisive contribution of the Merchant Marine to the national and Allied struggle in WWII. There are texts about its path and reconstruction during the crucial post-war period of the “Greek Shipping Miracle”, as well as about the first shipping museum on the internet. These are two of 12 sections that present the modern history of the Greek Merchant Marine.

This publication also presents some of the key quantitative data on Greek shipping, as well as articles from the historic magazine Oikonomikos Tachydromos, regarding the transition of shipping from the 20th to the 21st century, during the last two crucial decades. These refer especially to its relation with the well-known, fixed, stubborn, and especially harmful – for both shipping and the entire country – distortions of the Greek state, and are authored by the magazine’s legendary editor, for over three decades, Yannis Marinos, who is widely considered the dean of Greek journalism. Oikonomikos Tachydromos, under the stewardship of Marinos, and with the central participation of Antonis Papagiannidis, was a seminal publication in its era.

Great masters: Asprogerakas and Volanakis

By the gracious permission of the Hellenic Maritime Museum, the Union of Greek Shipowners, the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation, the B&M Theocharakis Foundation, “Posidonia S.A.”, the magazine Argo, and the magazine Naftika Chronica, our readers have the opportunity to come into contact with the best writing on the history of the Greek Merchant Marine in the 20th century, which is the focus of the publication, but also with exceptionally valuable visual art of the 20th century and exceptionally rare photographs, which are an important part of the publication. The predominant position is held by one of the top Greek and European painters of the second half of the 19th century, Konstantinos Volanakis, a great master who contributed to the thematic renewal of the Munich school, and who is considered the father of Greek seascape painting.

Just as shipping and its age old history constitute part of the soul of Hellenism, so too Volanakis’ work and that of others constitutes its highest artistic and spiritual reflection.

One must also note the distinguished painter Nikolaos Asprogerakas, whose work graces the front-cover.

To the above institutions, and their boards and representatives, we extend our heartfelt thanks.

One must also offer the warmest thanks to Dr. Niki Kalogiratou, the publication advisor of this edition.

The messageof Admiral Kountouriotis to21st century Greeks

Allow us to make one last reference. We extend special thanks to the President of the Union of Greek Shipowners, Theodoros Veniamis, and to the director of the Union of Greek Shipowners, Ms Katerina Peppa, who brought to my attention a valuable text, which is the first that viewers of this publications will have the opportunity to read.

It is an especially rare interview granted 102 years ago by Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis regarding the Greek Merchant Marine and its national importance for this country, its freedom, and its people, which has been repeatedly confirmed historically.

Just in the 20th century [setting aside the 19th century War of Independence], that was confirmed in the Balkan Wars, shortly after which Kountouriotis granted this interview, and later in the 1940-1944 National Struggle for Freedom, and thereafter in the titanic effort to reconstruct this country from the rubble.

Admiral Kountouriotis was not just someone who repeatedly rose to Greece’s highest offices. There were many such in the course of history, many of whom were soon forgotten by history itself and the people, and sometimes they appeared on the darkest pages of history.

Admiral Kountouriotis was the liberator of the Eastern Aegean and its islands. Contemporary Hellenism, especially at this time, would do well to listen to all that he has to say. The decisive lessons he holds in store are riveting.

All of the above constitute much more than a routine commemorative publication. They form a thrilling mosaic that not only enlightens the reader in depth, but also offers a charming voyage through the determinative, contemporary history of Greek shipping, through the highs and lows that it experienced over all these decades, without ever retreating, always incorporated in a broader historical framework that was full of reversals.

More importantly, it demonstrates how Hellenism if it so desires, even in the toughest eras, can always look upon the future with optimism and forcefulness.

It shows us all that will power and decisiveness in pursuing a better tomorrow are what keep open not only the seas, but horizons overall, and constitute the existential parameter of Hellenism through the ages. They are the bearers of a strong, free future.

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