32 Theodore Veniamis, Union of Greek Shipowners
A staunch defender of Greek shipowners’ interests, Theodore Veniamis has increasingly spoken out for the rank and file of tramp-bulk shipowners in Europe and beyond
During his fourth three-year term, the president has co-sponsored an effort to promote Greece’s wider maritime cluster in a more structured way
THERE is no doubting that Theodore Veniamis is a man on a mission.
However, the mission appears to have broadened during his presidency of the Union of Greek Shipowners, now the longest since democracy returned to Greece in 1974.
Mr Veniamis began his stint in office at a time when the world financial system was in crisis, shipping markets had crashed and Greece’s debt crisis was on the cusp of being blown open, ensuring that shipowners’ contributions to the nation’s shrinking economy would come under unprecedented scrutiny.
Throw in the launch of a European competition probe into the national tax regime for shipping and he naturally had his hands full protecting the shipping community’s status quo.
Defending shipping as a pillar of Greek society and its economy, Mr Veniamis sought to position it as a potential partial solution to the country’s rampant youth unemployment. He also supervised creation of the Greek Shipowners’ Social Welfare Company, or ‘Syn-Enosis’.
More recently, he has co-sponsored an effort — at long last — to promote Greece’s wider maritime cluster in a more structured way.
The fact that he has been elected for a fourth three-year term as president suggests his peers generally commend the job he has done.
2019 saw three key developments that have soothed Greek owners’ fears of being under attack in their own backyard.
The first was a deal to introduce a dividend tax that is understood to have satisfied Brussels’ years-long probe into the country’s fiscal framework for shipping.
Since then, the arrival of Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ staunchly pro-shipping government and Greece’s official exit from its final bailout programme have hinted at a return to something closer to normal times for Greek shipping in its homeland.
However, as domestic problems have eased, international issues have rung alarm bells at UGS headquarters.
Public speeches and written statements from Mr Veniamis were rare during his first three terms but the International Maritime Organization’s 2020 sulphur cap regulations and longer-term decarbonisation goals have increasingly dragged him into the limelight.
In pushing for recognition of safety issues stemming from introduction of new compatible fuels or attacking the allowance of scrubbers by the IMO, the UGS president says he has been standing up for the rank and file owners.
He acknowledges that the scrubber debate has caused divisions in the Greek shipping community but also suggests it has naturally fallen to the UGS to communicate shipping realities that are in the interests of the industry not only in Greece, but in Europe and beyond.
“We have a voice and we raise our voice as it is needed,” Mr Veniamis told Lloyd’s List. “We take into account what is right for the vast majority of our members.”
That has meant an antipathy to scrubbers that, he says, are undermining the tramp sector’s level playing field.
“I don’t enjoy fighting. It’s not nice to come up against your own people [Greek owners who have opted to install scrubbers], who you like a lot and you respect,” he says.
According to Mr Veniamis, worldwide availability of safe 0.5% sulphur marine fuels is the UGS’s primary concern, with the accent on safety as much as global availability.
Initially a lone voice, he has been successful in canvassing sufficient support to get the IMO to commit to new safety measures to complement the sulphur cap, but not to delay its introduction.
“We are the only ones so committed and hands-on — not only on this issue, but on many other issues,” he says.
“We represent what we represent — more than 21% of the world fleet and over 53% of the EU fleet.
“Why should we let others that don’t represent even 1% of the fleet influence the world of tramp shipping? That’s wrong for the world, it’s wrong for Europe and it’s wrong for the IMO.”