The deep and prolonged crisis of the previous decade led to consequences comparable perhaps only to a world war. Many powerful shipping enterprises could not withstand the poor market conditions and were eventually driven out of business. A large part of the world fleet was sent to scrapyards prematurely, including ships which had been laid-up throughout the crisis. For the first time in post-war years, global shipping had to operate in a freight market which had been dropping continuously for almost five years. The crisis led to a significant reduction in shipping volume and global shipbuilding activity. On the other hand, the recession also had positive effects, such as the weeding out of opportunists who had entered the industry. In any event, the years of the crisis ushered in radical changes, among which were large international shipping groups carrying out hasty initiatives that caused concern by introducing a largely bureaucratic approach to the daily operation of vessels.

With the crisis fresh in mind, despite the gradual recovery of the freight market, most Greek owners were very cautious in placing newbuilding orders at the beginning of the 1990’s. However, it was not long before the picture started to change. A series of accidents involving tankers causing serious environmental pollution, most notably the EXXON VALDEZ grounding in 1989, led to a chain reaction worldwide forcing several governments to take action in the form of special legislation, in an effort to protect the marine environment. Thus, the start of a new era began, when oil tankers had to be built with a double hull. The pressure for the replacement of existing single hull tankers intensified and the measure eventually became mandatory in response to more accidents that had occurred in the meantime. Changing with the times, by the end of the decade Greek owners had replaced a large part of their fleets through the construction of 132 double hull tankers.

In April 1990, the right wing New Democracy party was voted back into power. Prime Minister Constantinos Mitsotakis personally oversaw efforts aiming at the recovery of the ailing Greek registry. However, all efforts proved fruitless as Greek shipping was obliged to move in line with most leading maritime powers, including those of the former Eastern European block, adopting mainly open registry flags.

Over the next few years, while the freight market continued without significant variations, Greek shipping carefully continued to advance towards the new century. Initiatives by Greek owners, particularly in the newbuilding sector, strengthened the national registry with quality ships, despite the shortage of Greek seafarers for the manning of the Greek-flag fleet. Two later governments, one under Andreas Papandreou in 1993 and the other under Costas Simitis in 1996, were unable to successfully address the issue of the competitive operation of Greek-flagged oceangoing vessels. Nevertheless, it is worth noting the entry of over 50 newly built passenger ships of various types which led to the radical renewal of the fleet employed in the Greek coastal service. This was mainly due to the initiative of Pericles Panagopulos, who placed orders in 1993 for the building of the first ships of his pioneering Superfast fleet, forcing others to follow. A particularly important result of this development was the entry of passenger shipping into the Athens Stock Exchange.

The Greeks’ return to the shipyards intensified by the mid-1990’s, resulting in the building of a total of 249 vessels by the end of the century. Of these, 119 ships were built in South Korea, which was rapidly emerging as a major shipbuilding power. It is worth noting that the country’s largest shipbuilder, Hyundai Heavy Industries at Ulsan, had commenced its shipbuilding activity in 1974, building a very large crude oil carrier to the order of the George S. Livanos Group.

In 1998, the longstanding bonds between Chinese and Greek shipowners moved to another level, through the construction of the first Greek-owned ship by a Chinese shipyard. This was the beginning of an extensive co-operation that has led this great country into the forefront of world shipbuilding in recent times.

During the past 150 years, world shipping has undergone dramatic changes. In the mid-19th century, the British were the major protagonists in both shipbuilding and ship operation. At the close of the 20th century, the majority of world shipbuilding was confined mainly to the Far Eastern part of the world, and in particular China, Japan and South Korea, all decisively boosted through newbuilding orders over half a century by shipowners of a small European country. It should be therefore not considered as a miracle that these particular owners have been evolved into todays Seaborne Trade Leaders.

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