Rising number of Greeks sign on as seafarers

Total of 14,313 nationals went to sea in 2016, with country’s austerity measures seen as a factor in the increase

The number of Greek seafarers enrolling on merchant ships increased last year for the first time since 2011.

It is the first tangible evidence that biting austerity measures could be pushing more and more Greeks to pursue a career at sea.

A total of 14,313 Greek nationals embarked on commercial vessels in 2016, compared to 13,927 in the previous year, Greek statistical service ELSTAT said in a press release.

This is the first rise in enrolments registered since 2011, according to the data. It includes seamen of all ranks employed on Greek-controlled vessels, regardless of flag.

Greek statistical data often is patchy or subject to the whim of the administrators who compile it. However, officials at ELSTAT and at the merchant marine ministry, when contacted by TradeWinds, were adamant that the maritime enrolment increase in 2016 was neither accidental, nor the result of changes in the way the figures were collected.

“There is more demand for work at sea by young people entering the labour market,” said one official at the merchant marine ministry’s Bureau for Maritime Employment.

The Greek unemployment rate has climbed to about 25% as a consequence of the crippling economic crisis that has been raging for the past seven years and with no end in sight. The unemployment rate among the young — between 15 and 24 years old (students and military conscripts excluded — stands at about 50%.

Demand for maritime jobs is also increasing among older seamen, who had given up their careers at sea but are now forced to reverse their decision.

“Some of them had tried their hand at different jobs, closer to the family, but lost them in the crisis,” the ministry official said.

The increase of maritime enrolment is disproportionately strong among lower-rank seamen: their numbers rose by 3.2% to 10,059 last year, according to the figures. The increase on Greek-controlled, foreign-flag vessels was even higher, at 4.9%.

These numbers, however encouraging, still fall far short of Greek shipping’s potential to boost employment in the country.

Despite the obvious need for a strategy to attract more young Greeks to sea, the country’s shipowners and seamens’ labour unions are still world’s apart from agreeing on how to go about it.

Seamen went on a nine-day strike late last year, seeking higher wages and collective bargaining agreements among other things. The Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS) accused workers’ representatives of making intransigent and excessive demands.

“Hiring low-rank Greek crews is only feasible on terms in line with lawful international standards,” UGS president Theodore Veniamis told the union’s annual assembly last month.

“Irrational labour-union obstacles” were just holding back the creation of new jobs in a country where he says “unemployment is tearing at the social fabric”.