It was Greece’s sailors who gave their lives so that Greek shipping could become known globally and take a predominant position. From the simple sailor to the captain these heroes managed to tame and conquer the seas.

The great Greek poet and sea-lover Odysseas Elytis wrote:

“Take care to pronounce the word sea clearly
So that all the dolphins can shine in it
And the great desert that fits God.”

It is that sea which the Greek sailor managed to tame and in which  he continues to be a pioneer.

Can a sculpture transmit the grandeur of Greek shipping, and if so which would be the appropriate place to place a monument honouring the unknown sailor?

The answer was offered by an important move of the Municipality of Piraeus following an initiative and donation from the City Councillor who won the most votes in the last election, Evangelos Marinakis.

Greek seamanship

Many may not be aware of the significance of Greek seamanship. It is not simply the art of sailing. It is a broader nexus of knowledge. It is a traditional code of sailors’ ethics as regards their behaviour and confronting emergency situations (shipwrecks, abandoning ship, and saving castaways) in which the captain is traditionally the last to leave the ship and the crew selflessly risk their lives to save passengers.

These values and traditions are synonymous with Greek seamanship.

Erecting a monument to honour the Greek sailor was long overdue and has now materialised.

On the morning of Sunday, 21 April, a crowd gathered to witness the unveiling of an important sculpture created by Georgios Rousis, a native of Piraeus.

This is the least that could be done to recognise the contributions of Greek seamen, who as a pillar of Greek shipping toiled from olden times to support a sector that is especially profitable for the Greek economy and honours Greece worldwide.

The aim was to reflect the capabilities of the Greek Merchant Marine and Greek seamanship in a beautiful statue. It depicts a sailor who appears to have been through many travails and struggles to tame the sea. He is characterised by the fact that his gaze is turned upward as he looks toward the infinite.

Now he does so from the heart of Greek shipping, the Port of Piraeus, in the courtyard of the Church of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of seamen, at Akti Miaouli.

Marinakis: ‘The monument was a moral duty’

The monument’s donor, Evangelos Marinakis, in his remarks said that this was precisely the aim of his initiative – to highlight the gratitude of all of Greece to the unkown sailor

“Your Eminence [Metropolitan Serapheim of Piraeus] and dear friends, I am especially glad and moved to be among you at a monument to the Unknown Sailor in front of the Church of Saint Nicholas, the protector of all our seamen,” Marinakis said. “I consider it an ethical duty to have this monument grace our city in the right location next to the Port of Piraeus and the sea of Piraeus.

“I believe that seamanship for Piraeus and our country has played a special role since antiquity. Thanks to the Battle of Salamis and its result we have a different world today.

“The contribution of Greek seamanship was important later as well, especially during the two World Wars.

“The contributions of our Merchant Marine and its ties to our country and especially Piraeus and its port are well known,” Marinakis said.

“Once again I would like to thank all those who worked with us to create this monument. It was many years late in coming to our city, but better late than never. Today we are all here and your presence is an honour,” he concluded.

Piraeus Mayor Yannis Moralis: ‘Regaining our pride’

Piraeus Mayor Yannis Moralis thanked Marinakis for his initiative, noting that he fully underwrote it.

He said that the City Council “unanimously approved the decision as of course did the Metropolitan of Piraeus to place the monument outside the Church of Saint Nicholas

“Mr. Marinakis’ contribution demonstrates yet again his interest in the city. Piraeus is changing. We are regaining our old pride and all these initiatives, from the sculpture of [Revolutionary War hero] Nikitaras to the monument to the Unknown Sailor, demonstrate that we are a team which wants to help our city move forward,” Moralis said.

“We honour our thousands of seamen who are the soul of Greek shipping. We honour the people who work hard –under adverse conditions in the past but better now – along the length and breadth of all seas, usually away from their country and families for long periods of time. We honour or seamen and their families by erecting in our city the “Monument of the Unknown Seaman”,” the Mayor said.

“Piraeus is not just the biggest port in Greece. It is not just the natural port of the biggest Merchant Marine fleet in the world. It is not just the seat of the Merchant Marine Academy and of the competent Shipping Ministry. It is all of the above combined with the history of our city, which from early antiquity was linked to the sea, which made Piraeus the city of seamanship. That term has traditionally described Greek seamen and it refers to their knowledge and capabilities at sea along with their sense of responsibility and a sense of their role. Seamanship drove and keeps Greek shipping at the top of the world,” he added.

Serapheim praises monument

In his remarks, His Eminence Metropolitan Serapheim of Piraeus and Phaliro noted, “Such a work cannot be crafted in a short length of time. It takes inspiration, vision, and an impetus to make it happen and that is why I want to congratulate from the bottom of my heart the exceptional sculptor and fellow Piraeus native [Georgios Roussis] for his outstanding depiction of the spirit and ethos of the Greek sailor. Today a vision becomes an act and comes to life.”

“We acquired democracy because we had a fleet, because we had ships. Ships are the absolute expression of the life of a country and of a city. You take to the oceans and your spirit expands to the truth of the human person. The great miracle that Hellenism brought to fruition so that today it is in first place in global shipping is today being honoured in the top port of the country with humble love,” Serapheim said.

‘Grateful to Marinakis’

“I want to express my gratitude to Vangelis Marinakis who with no personal gain or self-interest, motivated by simple and pure love, and unalloyed love for his late father who adored Piraeus, offered this monument so that we can all pay a debt of honour as we pass by here to Greek seamanship,” he added.

Addressing Mayor Moralis, Serapheim said that he “fervently, unreservedly, and wholeheartedly accepted your proposal to erect this monument in the courtyard of the protector of seamen and co-patron of our city, the Myrrh-bearing and miracle-working Saint Nicholas, so that seamanship will always be under his protection and that of God, because seamanship is a diachronic reality,” the Metropolitan said.

‘No other seafaring nation achieved so much”

Serapheim also underlined that, “No other seafaring nation achieved so much as the Greeks. That is because the seamanship of the Greek nation did not aim at conquest, but rather was always a force that civilised and brought real elements of culture and values around the world. That is why today is a day of great joy and celebration and I express from the depths of my soul once again, dear Mr. Marinakis, my grateful thanks because in this manner you exhibit how the soul of a Greek is moved by objectives that are far from any ulterior motives.”

“We should take into our hearts this monument to seamanship and faith now that we are called upon to tread through Holy Week with the ultimate sacrifice and offering of God to man,” he concluded.

Veniamis: Measures to bring ships back to the Greek flag

The President of the Union of Greek Shipowners, Theodoros Veniamis, also addressed those in attendance.

“I believe that the initiative of Mr. Marinakis to bring the Unkown Seaman here in front of Saint Nicholas is a gesture that honours our city, the seamanship of the Greeks, and also those who lost their lives while carrying out their duties. The seamanship of the Greeks brought us to where we are – all these years Greek shipowners and seamen went hand-in-hand – in the predominant position globally which we have maintained for over 100 years. Primarily, we must support tomorrow’s Greek seamanship leaving behind the dysfunctions of the past, which deprive our youth of that seamanship, and bring back Greek ships,” Veniamis said.

Retired seamen

The president of the Pan-Hellenic Union of Retired Merchant Marine Captains, Demetrios Mindrinos, said, “Mr. Marinakis, we applaud your decision to erect at long last a monument in honour of the Greek sailor, which the first port of the country lacked. Sailors have contributed much to the economy of Greece. Greece cannot exist without Greek shipping. It is the pillar of the economy. Let us not forget that seas and oceans hold the remains of Greek seamen. They sacrificed their lives for the grandeur of the fatherland, in order to bring freedom.”

The sculptor speaks

Sculptor Georgios Rousis in his brief remarks underlined that, “I was born in Piraeus and am a third generation resident. I have returned to my city and am eager to create in my birthplace with love. It was a great honour for Mr. Marinakis to ask me to collaborate on this work. I believe I managed to create a sculpture that expresses the unknown sailor.”

The unveiling

The unveiling was conducted by Metropolitan Serapheim of Piraeus and Phaliro, Piraeus Mayor Yannis Moralis, donor Evangelos Marinakis, and Union of Greek Shipowners President Theodoros Veniamis.

Metropolitan Serapheim then conducted a memorial service.

The event was organised by the Municipality of Piraeus in cooperation with the Metropolitanate of Piraeus.

Wreath-laying ceremony

Wreaths were laid by:

Piraeus Mayor Yannis Moralis

The monument’s donor Evangelis Marinakis

Theodoros Veniamis on behalf of the Union of Greek Shipowners

Commercial and Industrial Chamber of Piraeus President Vasileios Korkidis

General Secretary Panagiotis Gaganis of the Federation of Retired Merchant Marines Captains’ Unions

The President of the Pan-Hellenic Union of Retired Merchant Marine captains Demetrios Mindrinos

Antonios Evgenios, President of the Pan-Hellenic Union of retired Merchant Marine Engineers

Union of Retired Coast Guard Officers President Vasileios Manolakos

Vice-President of the Piraeus Association of Reserve Officers Spiros Spyridon

Piraeus Medical Association President Nikolaos PlatsaniotisPresident of the Union of Mani Natives Everywhere “I Mani” Stavros Voidonikolas

Protopresbyter Christos Tzanoudakis, who is vice-president of the Cretan Brotherhood of Piraeus “Omonia”

Mata Kornaraki on behalf of the Association of Women of Crete and the Aegean

Angelos Gaviotis on behalf of the Piraeus Commanders’ Club

At the event, Ms Vasiliki Karakosta interpreted demotic songs of the sea.

The Hellenic Coast Guard Band also played at the event.