Greek Shipping roots are as old as the Greek Prehistory. Dating back to the time of the Argonauts, a sorority of legendary heroes in Greek mythology, who in the years before the Trojan War, around 1300 BC, accompanied Jason to Colchis in his mission to find the Golden Fleece. Their name comes from their ship, Argo, named after its designer, Argus. The literal meaning of “Argonauts” is “Argo sailors. Greece, a country surrounded by sea, which according to the World Factbook, is the 11th in rank country based on a coastline length of 13,676 km, made an early statement of dominance in the Mediterranean Sea since the ancient times.
The early Greek sailors, loved the sea for the freedom and for the new opportunities that the sea was giving them. Helped by their adventurous spirit, the Greek climate conditions and geographically being located at the important crossroad of the sea trade routes of the time, the Greeks became masters of the seas by overcoming the competition that was spawned by other Mediterranean ethnic groups. The connection of the sea trade with the development of the Greek civilization and Greek colonies of the ancient times in the Mediterranean region was so strong, that it settled the base for a long and an unparalleled maritime tradition. Until the time Greece was conquered by the Romans, the Greek merchant shipping flourished uninterruptedly since the 11th century BC with Alexander’s the Great ruling times setting the Greek sea trade at its greatest glory.
The centuries that followed, even during the period of the Roman dominance, Greeks continued to be heavily involved in the merchant shipping as Romans were more focused on the building of infrastructure and were not so well versed with the matters of the sea. After the period of the Romans and during the Byzantine era, Greek merchant shipping recovered its power for the next ten centuries. Byzantium formed shipping policies that greatly supported the growth of the Greek merchant marine through the centuries that followed. Again, towards the end of the Byzantine Empire, the Greek merchant marine declined significantly. However, the Greeks still offered their services and knowledge on foreign ships.
During the 400 years of the Ottoman Empire occupation of Greece that followed the Byzantine Era, Greek Shipping faced numerous challenges but even in difficult times, it managed to compete or cooperate with shipping super powers of the West. The historical facts that took place during that period are not linear, and there were periods of volatile interdependencies, alliances, economic privileges or economic barriers, new markets as well as new threats. The only sure thing is that Greek Merchant Shipping which underwent several transformations, played a crucial role in the regional and the European economic life and its value was recognized both inside and outside the Ottoman Empire. As the European landscape was going through great historical changes, the Greek Merchant activity was influenced both in positive and negative ways by these changes, while at the same time, it had a rather beneficial impact on the local and European trade. In the 19th century, reaching towards the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the Greek shipping had strengthened and during the Greek Revolution (1821- 1830), many ship owners financed the Revolutionary Army and used the ships in warfare operations against the Ottoman Navy in the Aegean Sea. After Greece gaining its independence, there were certain technological advances that had taken place in the Western Shipping. Greek ship-owners having lost a great size of
After Greece gaining its independence, there were certain technological advances that had taken place in the Western Shipping. Greek ship-owners having lost a great size of the fleet during the Greek war of independence, in order to survive in such a capital intensive industry had to work really hard, offer specialized services and be more flexible from their European counterparts. They succeeded to expand their activity and manage shipping operations both from Piraeus, London as well as from other global major shipping hubs and with steady steps to build again a good recognition and access in the global shipping network. In the 20th century the Greek shipping faced many setbacks, especially during the two world wars that took place, but after that and in the next 50 years, it managed again to grow and prosper despite the challenges it encountered in the 70’s due to two oil crises and the rise of Japanese yen against the United States dollar. It was after the early 90’s that Greek Shipowners started building again at a tremendous pace.
The Greek fleet today: How and why the Greek-owned fleet is the largest in the world
As at January 2016, the top five ship owning economies (a ranking based on the percentage controlled by each country out of the total world tonnage) were Greece, Japan, China, Germany, and Singapore.
Today, the Greek-owned fleet is still the largest in the world. Ιn 2016 the Greek shipping, according to the latest annual report of the United Nations trade service, UNCTAD, the share of the Greek-owned fleet is 16.36%, versus 16.1% a year ago and 15.5% in 2014.
A country so small and yet managed to dominate the seas of the planet. When we come to numbers, the Greeks manage 4,600 ships, i.e. 20% of the world fleet (in dwt) and 50% of the European. Greek ship owners control a total of 4136 ships, against 4.017 ships in 2015. Moreover, the contribution to the Greek economy is significant as Greek shipping contributes 7% of Greek GDP, maintains 192,000 jobs and has contributed 140 billion Euros in the balance of payments of Greece in the last decade. The size of the Greek fleet by capacity amounts to 293 million Tons dwt versus 279.4 million Tons last year.
*See the next pages for more statistical facts about the global ownership of the world fleet in the form of graphs.