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East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance Holds 2nd Annual Shipping Forum
Plan for Monument to Greek Sailors in Manhattan is Announced
The 2nd Annual Hellenic Shipping Industry Panel Discussion presented by EMBCA (East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance) that took place at the 3 West Club in Midtown Manhattan shined a spotlight on an industry that is Greece’s biggest and constitutes the largest independent shipping fleet in the world. A panel of experts covered the state of the industry, its history, and its prospects.
The shipping panel was introduced by Dr. Anastasios (Tasos) Aslidis, CFO Euroseas Ltd. and member of the Board of Directors of NYMAR which that promotes New York as a Shipping hub, who also moderated the discussion.
On the panel were Dr. Kirsi Tikka, Executive Vice President, Global Marine, American Bureau of Shipping Inc.; Andreas L. Theoharis, Vice President and Chartering Director, Southern Star Shipping Co./Atlantic Bulk Carriers Management Ltd.; Lou Raptakis, Rhode Island State Senator; and Konstantine Drougos, Managing Director, Agro Marketing International and the organizer of the event.
Lou Katsos, Founder & President of EMBCA, welcomed the guests and announced the creation of the Hellenic Shipping and Friendship Memorial Committee whose goal is to place a monument in downtown Manhattan to honor the almost 2,500 Hellenic merchant seamen who were killed by Nazi U-boats and submarines carrying supplies from the U.S. to Europe and played a vital role in the victory of the Allies in WWII. The stories of many of them who lived or ultimately settled in the USA constitute an important but little-known part of the history of the Hellenic American community.
Another important purpose, he noted, will be to express gratitude to the United States for supporting the creation of the modern Hellenic Merchant Marine fleet through the “Blessed” Liberty ships that were sold to Hellenic ship owners after the war at reduced rates as compensation for their losses and as a reward for the Hellenic contribution to the war effort.
As part of the promotional campaign relating to the monument they plan to have a contest in the spring among artists and sculptors, with a prize as an incentive for generating design concepts, and to produce a documentary highlighting the historical aspects, as well as a book.
Rhode Island State Senator Lou Raptakis spoke about his own related initiative, sending Liberty Ships back to Greece. On Andros in 2003, shipowner Spyros Polemis approached him about bringing a Liberty Ship to Greece. There are only three left.
“The obstacles were many – finding the ship, persuading the U.S. 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,” Raptakis said. “All this cost almost $15 million, which was mostly provided by Greek ship owners, and especially by the late Captain Vassilis Constantakopoulos of Costa Mare.”
The Arthur M. Huddell, as the Liberty Ship was known, left the U.S. for Greece on December 6, 2008 on the feast day of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. That was also 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.
Theoharis who represented the Coumantaros family, one of the historic names in Greek Shipping, spoke about innovations in the industry, including the technological advances that improve both safety and efficiency, reasons he gave for his encouraging more investment in Hellenic shipping. He also spoke about the battle of Salamis and the defeat of the Persians by Themistocles and the Athenian fleet as a defining moment for World’s history. He also noted that eventually Hellenic ship owners owned a large proportion of the Liberty ships that were sold to various nations.
Dr. Tikka, from ABS, the world’s major ship classification society and Sponsor of the Hellas Liberty Museum, also spoke about technological innovations in shipping and classification, adding that there have been improvements in energy efficiency, and that automation is also advancing in the industry. She also noted that again this year Hellenic ship owners have placed the largest orders for new large technologically advanced ships and have among the world’s newest fleets
Drougos noted, “This industry has a past, present, and future.” He emphasized that the Hellenic owned fleet and the dominance of Hellenic ships on the high seas is one of the greatest entrepreneurship success stories in modern history. He indicated that Hellenic shipping gives jobs to millions of people every day in ships, ship yards, ports and offices around the world and is also the U.S. and NATO’s largest non-military strategic asset. He also mentioned that it will help New York City to attract Hellenic Shipowners and regain its historical status as a global transportation hub. The Committee will be working with NYMAR in coordinating activities towards that end.
Apropos of Greece-U.S. friendship and its naval component, Raptakis referred to current efforts to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Greece, including further cooperation among the merchant marine and naval academies of the two nations. He also noted that the Hellenic shipping industry could help alleviate the high youth unemployment rate in Greece.
In his closing remarks Katsos thanked Dr. Aslidis and the panelists for their important and valuable shipping industry discussion. Katsos and Drougos, acknowledged Mr. George Foustanos, founder of the only online shipping museum, which can be visited at greekshippingmiracle.org, Mr. Spyros Polemis, Ms.Georgia Martinou, Panos Mantzaris, Captain Evangelos Kouzilos, and Petros Diplas, Publisher of Shipping Finance, for their interest and support of the monument initiative.
Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras, who spoke at the event, was enthusiastic about the Memorial project, which he said promotes knowledge of the long history of friendship between the United States and the Hellenic Republic.