Greek Shipping News Cuts
Week 50 - 2004

 

The future of Piraeus

---Shipowners want upgrade of services to make the port a regional hub.
Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis (l), talks to Union of Greek Shipowners chief Nikos Efthymiou yesterday.
Shipping and Piraeus may be inseparably intertwined but, despite the size of the Greek merchant navy, governments have failed to create the conditions that would have helped the country's biggest port evolve into a regional shipping and financial center in the eastern Mediterranean, speakers told a conference yesterday.
"We lag behind in legal framework and infrastructure," the president of the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping (NEE), Giorgos Gratsos, noted at the event on "Investment Opportunities in Piraeus: The post-Olympic Period and the Future."
He argued that shipping buys services and for the benefits to be maximized for Greece, these must reach a certain quality standard which unfortunately is lacking.
"We do not have a developed insurance market to cover shipping risks and civil liabilities, we do not have a shipping register of international stature, we have not modernized the existing legal framework for shipping, while NEE, which could undertake shipping arbitration, has only had three cases in its recent history," Gratsos said.
Pericles Panagopoulos, president of the Attica Group and the Association of Coastal Shipping Enterprises, argued that the government has the responsibility for building roads, ports, airports and reception centers for travelers. He also emphasized that the state must attend to the proper education and training of staff in the public and private sector through legislation.
Giorgos Xiradakis, president of the Public Property Company and CEO of shipping consultants firm XRTC, said Piraeus is a shipowning center but will not be able to develop into a shipping center in the broader sense, such as London.
"It is the center of Greek shipping but urgently needs infrastructure in order to deal with issues such as inadequate technological bases and traffic congestion," he said.
"The government has to prepare free areas of activity that will tap the potential of the port. We need watershed dates for Piraeus."
Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis said the government has set the development of Piraeus as a strategic target, which will involve a stronger role for Greek insurers in covering maritime risks and the establishment of maritime arbitration and a court where specialized judges will hear shipping-related cases.
Source: ANA, By Nikos Bardounias - www.eKathimerini.com, 8 12 2004


EU criminalisation proposal amended
---GREECE is satisfied with a new version of the EU Directive on criminal sanctions for ship source pollution approved yesterday by the Permanent Representatives Committee. Greece, along with Cyprus and Malta, had vetoed an earlier compromise proposal for the directive on the grounds that it criminalised seafarers and discriminated against EU-flagged ships in cases of accidental pollution. The amended draft directive does not contain the controversial provision, which was inserted at the request of France, that provided for custodial penalties in disregard of the UNCLOS and MARPOL treaties and extended the jurisdiction of authorities to their exclusive economic zones. Commenting on the development, Greek shipping minister Manolis Kefaloyannis said that the draft directive now came very close to the Greek position on the issue, and its adoption could be possible after a few more improvements
Source: http://www.fairplay.co.uk/, 11:23 10 Dec


Probe on two-ferry purchase
---THE Public Accounts Committee has agreed to investigate the processes surrounding the State Government's $290 million purchase of the twin Bass Strait ferries Spirit of Tasmania I and II.
The move comes eight months after MLC Kerry Finch first raised questions about the purchase of the ferries from Greek company Attica Enterprises in May 2002.
Public Accounts Committee chairman and Murchison MLC Tony Fletcher said the committee had written to the Premier and Treasurer Paul Lennon seeking details of the processes surrounding the decision to buy the ships.
The committee would focus on the probity and integrity of State Government processes when buying major infrastructure.
A decision would then be made on whether a full inquiry into the purchase of the vessels ought to be held.
There is no plan to examine the under-performing Spirit of Tasmania III ferry.
Mr Finch, the member for the northern Tasmanian seat of Rosevears, said it had been suggested the price of the ferries could have been "corruptly inflated" and Tasmanian taxpayers could have paid up to $100 million too much.
He said allegations had been made to him by Norwegian shipbroker Stan Stancheff.
Mr Lennon, then Acting Premier, and TT-Line chiefs Nick Evers and Peter Simmons responded with a scathing attack on Mr Finch, saying he was making false accusations.
Mr Finch later apologised for the way he had raised the questions, but stood by his decision to query the men over the purchases.
He would not comment yesterday. But Mr Fletcher said the Public Accounts Committee believed the issues needed to be resolved.
Source: Hobart Mercury, Australia - Dec 8, 2004, http://www.themercury.news.com.au, By ELLEN WHINNETT, Chief Reporter


Greece Pushes Trans-Balkan Pipeline
---President Vladimir Putin welcomed Greek Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis to the Kremlin on Thursday for talks focusing on an oil pipeline linking Bulgaria and Greece and military trade.
Caramanlis praised the stances of Russia and Greece as "similar or identical" on many international matters, while Putin called Greece one of Russia's "closest partners."
"Our relations have not developed too poorly in the past," Putin said before the meeting. "But more recently and even against this backdrop, we have sensed the positive developments that came once your government came to power."
The visit is the first by Caramanlis, whose conservative New Democracy party defeated the Socialists in March elections after 11 years in opposition.
Economic relations took pride of place at the 45-minute meeting. Putin said that energy issues in particular were a priority and noted that Russia would increase its gas shipments to Greece.
Caramanlis meanwhile said that Russian and Greek ministers would soon sign an intergovernmental memorandum on a trans-Balkan oil pipeline, "to begin implementation of this program."
The nations have been discussing a project to build the pipeline, from Bulgaria's Black Sea coast to the Mediterranean, which would enable Russian exports to bypass the busy Bosporus in Turkey.
The head of gas monopoly Gazprom, Alexei Miller, said that Russia would supply a record 2 billion cubic meters of gas to Greece this year and noted that the two countries have contracts through to 2016, Itar-Tass reported.
Greece already relies on Russia for 80 percent of its gas supplies, and buys the rest from Algeria, according to the agency.
Putin and Caramanlis issued a joint statement promising that their security services would work more closely to combat terrorism. The statement stressed the United Nations should play a coordinating role in fighting terror.
A joint action plan signed between the two countries also provided for increased military cooperation.
Itar-Tass reported earlier that between 2002 and 2005 Russia will have supplied over $1 billion in defense equipment to Greece.
Caramanlis thanked Putin for the "consistency" of Russia's approach to an ongoing dispute between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus. Caramanlis said that its solution should be based on a power-sharing plan proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Cyprus has been divided into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish-occupied north since a 1974 invasion by Turkey sparked by an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Ankara recognizes the Turkish Cypriot state declared in the north.
Source: http://www.themoscowtimes.com, Friday, December 10, 2004. Page 7. ,By Alex Nicholson ,The Associated Press


Magnus makes waves with K/S
---A Greek owner is breaking ground by becoming a Norwegian K/S manager.
Magnus Carriers of Greece is set to become the first non-Norwegian manager of a K/S (limited partnership) company.
The company is selling its 2,900-teu boxships CMA CGM Makassar and CMA CGM Seine (both built 1990) to a new K/S company, Magnus Carriers Corp, in which the owner will have a 25% stake. The ships are priced at $32.5m each, say market sources.
The K/S company has been set up by Platou Finans in Oslo. Company director Chris Svensson says Magnus decided to use this strategy because there is limited expertise in operating boxships in Norway and the Greek company has good relations with the charterer of the ships, CMA CGM.
The ships are being sold with new five-year time charters in excess of $20,000 per day to CMA CGM until 2010. They will replace the existing $15,800-per day-hires, which end next year.
The K/S was sold out in two days and was oversubscribed, according to Svensson. There are some 50 investors in the project, most of them with just a couple per-cent stakes.
Magnus is controlled by Piraeus-based Gabriel Petridis, who runs the technical operation, and Swede Mons Bolin, who takes care of the commercial side out of London.
The company purchased the ships in March this year from fellow Greek owner Drytank for between $23m and $24m each.
The internet Equasis database lists the company with a fleet of 17 ships. Magnus has two other boxships, one LPG carrier, one general cargoship and a reefer, while the rest of the fleet are either products or crude-oil tankers.
In September Magnus sold four early 1990s-built handysize tankers to US-based Eastwind for $40m en bloc.
The vessels are now listed as managed by Magnus but owned by Eastwind.
Source: www.tradewinds.no, 10 December 2004, By Trond Lillestolen, Paul Berrill and Gillian Whittaker, Oslo, London and Athens


Attica Group to Add New Car Ferry Route
---Greece's Attica Group shipping company will next month introduce a new Baltic Sea route between Rostock, Germany and Uusikaupunki, Finland, it announced Wednesday.
The company said the service will run three times a week and that "the key account for this service" was Valmet Automotive, a key supplier to Germany's Porsche AG.
Two roll-on roll-off ferries, the MV Marin and MV Nordia, will service the new route, Attica said.
The Attica Group is the parent company for two of Greece's largest passenger ferry fleets, Superfast Ferries and Blue Star Ferries. Its ships connect many of the Greek islands to the mainland and also run between Greece and Italy, Germany and Finland, Scotland and Belgium.
Attica said the new route will complement Superfast Ferries' daily connections between Rostok, Germany, and Harko, Finland.
Associated Press
Source: www.forbes.com, 12.08.2004, 10:03 AM


Youthful team at Beltest seeks to reshape views on investing in shipping
---The Cyprus-registered company fuelled speculation over its intentions when it acquired the leading shareholding in Torm, the Danish tanker operator. Two years later and Beltest is determined to spread its influence as a dedicated shipping player with a different approach to the industry, writes Nigel Lowry- Wednesday December 08 2004
ATHENS-based Beltest Shipping may not have its logo on the funnels of a fleet of ships, but it has been funnelling money - or at least asset value - into the portfolio of its young Greek shareholder since buying into Copenhagen listed D/S Torm a couple of years ago.
The Cyprus-registered company was established in 2002 and acquired the largest individual tranche of shares in the more than a century-old Danish tanker and dry bulk firm the same year.
Since then, the company has lifted its stake slightly to more than 30% but the dramatic increase has come from the soaring value of Torm's share, bringing the current worth of Beltest's investment to more than $300m.
It first bought into Torm when the share was DKr50.50, while the closing price for the company on the Copenhagen Stock Exchange last Monday was DKr245 ($44.37).
Beltest's sole shareholder is Alexandros Panagiotidis, son of well-established Greek shipping businessman Gabriel 'Villy' Panayotides, who is linked with Maryville Maritime as well as being chairman - and until recent chief executive of - US-listed bulk venture Excel Maritime Carriers. More recently his Fiama Holdings has been linked with Croatia's Jadroplov shipping company.
Although these have been happy times in terms of investments for the family, frustration is palpable in the Beltest offices that the father is often cited - erroneously - as its owner.
The mistake, though, is an understandable one as Villy Panayotides continues to represent Beltest's shareholding as a member of Torm's board.
As the different style of spelling the surname hints, US-educated Alexandros Panagiotidis, 22, is said to have his own ideas about shipping investments - and his company's next major step may not be far away.
According to Beltest's general manager, Nicos Zouvelos, it has already spread its investment portfolio in other major listed shipping companies and Scandinavian listed banks and is not to be considered a one-purpose vehicle that will be satisfied with being recognised as Torm's leading shareholder.
Beltest is already said to be working on the idea of establishing in the near future a shipping investment fund that will handle a universal shipping investment based portfolio, for investors who want to have strategic long-term investments in the industry.
"Admittedly, shipping is living great days currently," Mr Zouvelos tells Lloyd's List.
"But the opportunities and good investments did not suddenly appear during the last couple of years.
"They have always been there and will always be there, as long as one is methodical, patient and with deep knowledge and dedication to shipping itself," he maintains.
Prior to joining Mr Panagiotidis, Mr Zouvelos was financial manager of a long standing Greek dry bulk operator whose owner, he says, imparted the following nugget of wisdom: "There are no triumphs and no catastrophes in shipping. What matters is being there," he told me.
"Either as a shipowner or as an investor or as both, I would add."
Mr Zouvelos pronounces himself "fed up" with the view that shipping stocks can only appeal to investors "that want to make a quick exit and that shipping itself is a high risk business with the danger of losing all your money".
He says: "I wonder with what kind of knowledge and experience and with what time horizon some institutional investors in the US have suddenly discovered that listed shipping companies are a profitable business."
From the outset, despite widespread cynicism about its designs on Torm, Beltest maintained that its investment in the company was a long-term and strategic interest, and so far it has been as good as its word.
"We do not have, and it is not our intention to have, any controlling interest in D/S Torm or any other shipping company," Mr Zouvelos states. "We view ourselves as non-managing partners in a leading shipping company and that is how our business model works.
"Our shareholder comes, of course, from a family that has many years in shipping and his father is known and very active in the shipping community. But although dedicated to shipping, Alexandros Panagiotidis has his own innovative ideas that differ and can put a new sparkle in the business."
Mr Zouvelos particularly contrasts Beltest's strategy with the traditional approach of owner-operators in Greek shipping.
"We have been contacted by quite a number of individuals involved in shipping worldwide, including shipowners, who are very interested in our approach, which for Greek standards at least is pioneering," he claims.
Although it does not rule out investing as a holding company in a fleet of its own ships in future - as opposed to managing them - for now Beltest clearly has no need for port captains or a manning department.
Instead, the compact staff has been supplemented by bright US graduates with experience of investment banking who are described as "absolutely thrilled with the shipping industry and investment prospects in it". Their job as in-house analysts is to research shipping and other investments closely and recommend various possible strategies.
"We do not like to limit our views in the way that most published analyses present things - which is to the forecasts for the next one to two fiscal quarters," Mr Zouvelos says.
"This is the way that high-yield bond investors were approaching things back in 1998 and ended up losing their money, whilst, if they were patient, they would all be highly rewarded by now."
This is the notion that Beltest is trying to pass on to its own analysts as well as to market associates outside.
"Stocks in the short run might go up and down, but in the long run shipping flourishes and long-term investors are rewarded," he emphasises.
"After all, institutions and individuals are investing billions of dollars in hedge funds, which the sales people repeatedly say have great returns if you hold on with them for a period of at least 10 years.
"I honestly believe that shipping is the most important chain in the transport sector, despite all the criticism it has had to put up with. It will continue to be modernised and create opportunities," he adds.
The youthful Mr Panagiotidis has already received a prize in New York this year for his success as an investing shareholder in shipping. And although it will be a challenge to repeat the same stunning performance as his stake in Torm has achieved so far, Beltest clearly intends to go on in the manner with which it has set out in shipping.
Source: www.lloydslist.com, Wednesday December 08 2004


Frontline may be taking a run at General Maritime
---General Maritime made an announcement this week that Frontline has acquired an unspecified amount of the company's stock, rumored at 7%. Although neither company has disclosed exactly how much stock Frontline purchased,it required them to file a 13D with the SEC, meaning it is at least 5%, worth about $100 million. General Maritime stock traded above $50 on the news, reaching an all time high, before Hibernia put a sell recommendation on the stock at current levels and it came back 7%. The othertanker stocks have all suffered losses in recent days due to beliefs that OPEC will cut production and 2-month lows in Aframax rates in the North Sea. Although no advisors have been involved at this stage, this deal is clear evidence of how much power Nordea could wield if it decided to get a broker dealer license with the NASD as it is a key relationship bank to both Frontline and General Maritime.
No matter what you think of the deal, we can all agree on one thing: the news, issued by General Maritime before the filing was actually due, was initially a win/win for both companies. Frontline's investment in General Maritime is up big - we suspect they bought the shares from Oaktree in the 20s - and the valuation of General Maritime's stock is now receiving a lot more attention - remember what happened to Stelmar when the arbitrage funds stepped in?
Enskilda analysts Ivar Larsen and Ole Stenhagen estimate that Frontline can pay up to $54 per General Maritime share and expect to reap $9-$11 in synergies. As for the longer term, there is clearly a lot to be gained by Frontline shareholders in two ways. First off, the company stands to capture enormous operational and cost synergies.
Secondly, Frontline could potentially capture the massive arbitrage that exists between the valuation of General Maritime and that of the dividend yield paying vehicles if Frontline were to change General Maritime's no dividend policy.
The two important questions for General Maritime shareholders (except Fidelity and Neuberger Berman, who own both Frontline and General Maritime) are what the company is worth alone and what the company is worth to Frontline. One thing is for certain: General Maritime has always been a pure economic animal - they will do whatever the board feels delivers superior value to shareholders.
Source: Freshly Minted, www.marinemoney.com, 9 Dec 2004


13 Filipino sailors stranded in Long Beach
---LONG BEACH - Men stuck since September because of case against officers.
The holiday season hasn't been so merry for everyone. Thirteen Filipino sailors have been stranded in Southern California since September as witnesses in a federal environmental court case against three officers of a Greek shipping company.
The crew is in international limbo, awaiting the fate of a Greek captain and two Filipino officers accused of covering up the dumping of oil and garbage at sea from the cargo ship they had been operating since March.
U.S. Coast Guard inspectors arrested Ioannis G. Kallikis, Edgardo A. Guinto and Rolan P. Sullesta Sept. 21, saying they "unlawfully discharged oil-contaminated wastes generated on the vessel, including oil sludge and oil-contaminated bilge waters, overboard into ocean waters' aboard the M/V Katarina, a Maltese-registered bulk cargo vessel.
They are due to be arraigned Dec. 20 in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
The Coast Guard and U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles were tipped off on Sept. 14, the day the Katarina arrived at berth, by a longshoreman who had received an envelope from a crew member with letters detailing the ship's alleged illegal practices.
"Crew members had reported that they had been directed to throw trash, as well as discharge sewage and oil, overboard into the ocean," the affidavit said.
In a later interview with the union member, Coast Guard inspector Gerald Cannon was told that "things were heating up' on the vessel and that Guinto told the crew that there would be repercussions for anyone who discussed the matter.
One of the letters from the crew alleged that garbage was thrown overboard off the California coast, the sewage system was inoperable and that onboard living conditions were "deplorable' with cockroaches in the crew's living spaces and untreated drinking water.
Manny Aschemeyer, president of the International Seafarer's Center, talked to the crew and learned that to supplement their diet they had to fish off the back of the ship near Panama, the last call before Long Beach.
Inspectors found 23 violations and deficiencies on the ship, which is operated by Athens-based DST Shipping Co. Ltd.
Meanwhile, the 13 members of the Katarina crew have been staying in the small confines of the International Seafarer's Center in Long Beach since Nov. 23, when the shipping company stopped paying for their stay at the San Pedro Holiday Inn.
They've been sleeping on old mattresses, sleeping bags and even a bench from a minivan on the tile floor of the center.
The crew stayed on the Katarina until Oct. 4 while DST corrected the violations found by the Coast Guard. On Oct. 4, the company moved them to a Holiday Inn, where they stayed four to a room and got three meals a day.
That changed the week of Thanksgiving.
"We were informed on Nov. 22 that DST was no longer doing to do that," said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office. "They were basically abandoning the crew members."
With no one willing to put up the abandoned sailors, the attorney's office designated the sailors as material witnesses. However, with no authorization to be in the country, the men were to be taken into protective custody at the federal prison on Terminal Island.
"It's unfortunate that their employers have abandoned them, but we need them for the case," Mrozek said. "Theoretically, we could have charged everybody, but we've gone after the officers, rather than the workers. We've done everything we can to keep them out of a lockup situation."
Luckily for the sailors, the Rev. Henry Hernando stepped in. Hernando, with the Apostleship of the Sea, a Catholic group that cares for international seafarers, took custody of the sailors and brought them to the Seafarer's Center.
Normally the center caters to 100 to 250 foreign shipmates a day who come landside while the vessels they work on are unloaded. The center offers van service to Wal-Mart and provides computers and phones for sailors to communicate with loved ones back home.
But it's not exactly a motel.
"I left for Europe thinking they were blessed," said Hernando, who visits the sailors nightly. "I came back as they were being evicted from the Holiday Inn. I said to the government, 'What's going on here? This is a very demoralizing thing." It's very inhumane to apply those measures to material witnesses."
To stave off the boredom of sitting around doing nothing, Hernando set the sailors up to volunteer at a convent in Palmdale, doing odd jobs like painting. They've cleaned up the Seafarer's Center and hung Christmas lights and decorations for Pat Pettit, manager of the center.
"At first, they were pretty depressed," Pettit said, "but I told them, 'You've got to be strong. Your families are depending on you." They try to make the best of it, but they shouldn't be sleeping on the floor."
Pettit and the sailors cook meals using food from the center's freezer. Rice is eaten with every meal.
"We're Filipino, we need rice," Roberto Yanoc, one of the ship's engineers, said with a smile.
Yanoc said he worries about his wife and child back home and feels slightly guilty about not being able to earn a living.
"It's very boring. We are used to work," he said. "Our wives depend on our salaries. They don't have any jobs. If we stay here longer, what happens to our families?"
Mrozek said his office knows little more about the case's timetable than the stranded sailors.
"In order for these guys to go home, either the three guys have to plead guilty or go to trial and get convicted," he said. "Both sides could agree to depose (the crew), but the lawyers for the defendants have not agreed to that."
So they sit in limbo and wait, getting donations of food and medical care from members of the Seafarer's Center board, such as Jim Morgan, manager of the Port of Los Angeles Pilot Service.
On Thursday night, Morgan took pipe fitter Jimmy Piamonte, who had nosebleeds all week, and three others with medical problems to the maritime clinic next door to the Seafarer's Center. The nosebleeds had stopped by Friday, thanks to treatment, but Piamonte still lamented a loose tooth.
Third mate Melencio Estrera also went to the clinic with a fever and chills, but was prescribed antibiotics and felt better by Friday. He said he still worried about finding work once he returns home. Many of the crew are certain they will be blacklisted from the maritime industry in the Philippines for blowing the whistle on DST.
"What are we going to do when we get back? Maybe I'm doing gardening, or begging," Estrera said, with his palm extended out.
Only two of the crew members are single. The rest have wives and children who depend on the monthly checks sent to them by the shipping companies.
The men boarded the Katarina in Manila, where an agency assigned them to 10-month contracts.
The pay varies greatly between the crew members. Chief Mate Eugenio Niez, the second-in-command, said he earned $3,100 a month, while chief cook Richard Santillan received $250 a month.
None of the crew members has been paid since Oct. 31, the date the Katarina sailed from Long Beach. DST officials in Athens could not be immediately located Friday.
Niez, who's been sailing since 1976, said the whole ordeal has left the crew bewildered.
"The shipowner is trying to maximize profits and minimize expenses," he said. "That's why we are depressed. We don't know when we'll go home. As long as we know a definite time, we can be relaxed."
The crew was due to return to Manila Jan. 10, but that's unlikely now. Second Mate Roy Francisco's son's second birthday is on Jan. 16.
"We don't have any idea what's going on, or how long we're going to stay here," he said. "What the government should understand is that they're using us and they should break through the regulations. Nobody will report such things if they don't show they're helping those like us.
"I brought myself to the graveyard once I went to the government."
Morgan shook his head at their predicament.
"How can you go Christmas shopping when you see this going on?" he said. "We all talk about what a great economic engine these ports are, but these sailors are the lifeblood of that engine. And right now, they're not just anemic, they're hemorrhaging."
- To donate money, food or shelter to the stranded Filipino sailors, call (562) 432-7560 or send checks to the International Seafarer's Center, 120 S. Pico Ave., Long Beach, 90802.
Source: http://www.presstelegram.com, By Eric Johnson,Staff writer