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Greek Merchant Marine

Greece operates the largest merchant marine fleet in the world and is a clear leader in international shipping. Through the 2004-2008 period, more than 7% of Greek GNP was generated from shipping activities. Between the 1890s and the 1990s, the Greek shipping fleet emerged as the world's largest, accounting for some 16 percent of world tonnage by 1994. It was commonly acknowledged that the status and competitiveness which the merchant fleet enjoyed should be maintained, for a number of reasons. First, since shipping provides direct and indirect employment for thousands of Greeks, and secondly because shipping contributes a steady flow of exchange toward the country's balance of payments.

The Greek worldview and strategic tradition have been heavily influenced by the country's relationship to the sea and the existence of the large Greek diaspora. Greek shipping is among the most prominent worldwide and remains an important part of the Greek economy. This maritime outlook continues to shape the way Greeks see the country's national interests, including the relationship with Turkey in the Aegean. In this context, it worth noting an important asymmetry with the Turkish strategic orientation which, despite significant interests in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, is essentially continental rather than maritime.

The rapid growth of the Greek merchant fleet presents an impressive accomplishment for a country as small as Greece. In 1955, for example, Greece had a fleet of only 485 ships. By 1965, it had increased to 1,570, in 1970 to 2,319, in 1975 to 3,216 and in 1980 to 4,000. According to Lloyd's Register of Shipping, in 1982 the Greek flag ranked second in the world table of flags. The fleet under the Liberian flag totalled 74.9 million gross registered tons, compared with 42 million tons flying Greek colors. However, the total tonnage of Greek-owned ships that year reached more than 50 million tons. In December 1981, there were 4,351 Greek-owned ships of more than 100 grt (totalling 50,608,818 grt), as compared with the end of 1980 when there were 4,440 ships totalling 50,265,714 grt, and the end of 1979 when there were 4,568 ships totalhng 50,111,609 grt. Obviously, tonnage increased with a parallel reduction in numbers of ships.

Of Greece's 4,351 ships, 3,896 were still under the Greek flag. Of those under Greek flag, 2,724 ships totalling 25,794,691 grt were dry-cargo vessels. Of the remainder, 541 vessels (723,971 grt) were passenger ships and 277 (84,-893 grt) were of various other types. Of this fleet, in 1980, 78% was Greek-registered, 17% Liberian-registered, 3% Panamanian-registered and 2% flying the Cypriot flag.

According to statistical data of 2001, the Greek flag fleet consisted of 1529 vessels (above 100 gt) amounting to 28.678.240 gt. This fleet represents 38,10% of the European Community fleet and ranked fourth internationally. In parallel, Greek interests controlled 3,480 vessels of various categories i.e., 9,2% of the world's total number of vessels in service or 17,8% of the world fleet deadweight. As a result, the Greek owned ocean going fleet maintains its position on top in the world league.

By the late 1970s there was a lack of enough Greek seamen to makeup all-Greek crews for Greek ships. Although the fleet itself rapidly increased, the increase in Greek seamen did not follow suit. Among other things, Greek crews began demanding improved standards of living, and became more interested in opportunities for employment ashore. Migration from rural to urban areas compounded the problem, as workwas more easily found in the cities.

Since the 1950s, Greek shipping companies operated under a very light tax regime, helping the nation to evolve into the world's largest shipowning nation. People in the industry have talked about the "Greek shipping miracle" for over two decades since the end of the Cold War. The Greek merchant marine played a substantial role in the movement of cargo to the Persian Gulf for the U.S. and allied forces. The Greek merchant marine is an important asset for U.S. and NATO interests that is often overlooked in considering the relative strategic and military values of Greece and Turkey.

Piraeus is the homeport and heart of the Greek shipping industry, and the waterfront plays host to the world's largest concentration of marine services, ranging from shipowners, operators, brokers, insurers, shipyard representatives and ship equipment suppliers across the spectrum. This is a traditional shipping nation which - most paradoxically - has placed little importance on ports and relevant maritime infrastructure development. The location of Greek ports at the crossroads of three continents, and their potential to become among the most important nodes in the route connecting the Far East with Europe through the Suez Canal, have either not been appropriately appreciated or have been ignored.

Automated Mutual-assistance Vessel Rescue system (AMVER), sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard, is a unique, computer-based, voluntary global ship reporting system used worldwide by search and rescue authorities to arrange assistance for persons in distress at sea. Some 114 Greek shipping companies with 862 ships participated in this system in 2008.

Winston Churchill returned to the United States in 1961, for his final visit, on board the yacht of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Onassis was investigated the FBI for Fraud Against the Government. He was charged with violating the citizenship provision of the shipping laws that require all ships displaying the American flag be owned by United States citizens. Onassis pled guilty and paid seven million dollars in fines to the United States Government. In 1968, Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy, the widow of the President John F. Kennedy married Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. The public may have resented her second marriage to Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis in 1968, but again she was widowed. After his death in 1975, she embarked on a successful career as an editor in the publishing industry. In later years, Kennedy devoted herself to raising her two children and to a wide variety of social causes.

The child of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, Christina grew up in luxury but not without unhappiness. Her parents' divorce and remarriages and the subsequent deaths of her brother, mother, and father devastated the heiress, and impacted Christina's own disastrous romantic life.

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