George latridis at Ince & Co has over 29 years of experience in advising all industry participants, including leading Greek and international ship-owning groups, P&I Clubs, banks, and insurers and reinsurers. George is the head of the Greek law team. He has an impressive track record of acting in complex and high-value litigation cases, including several of the most significant and prominent shipping disputes to have taken place in Greece over the past two decades. George is also highly experienced in enforcements and foreclosures, marine pollution and casualty cases, and has substantial expertise in disputes arising from ship sale and purchase agreements, and shipbuilding contracts.
Dimitris Giomelakis has extensive experience advising major local and international shipping companies, insurers and reinsurers in litigation before the Greek courts; his main area of expertise is maritime law, and he has acted on behalf of P&I Clubs and classification societies in litigation arising from major casualties.
Dimitris Kapsis advises major domestic and non-domestic shipping companies, charterers, operators, P&I Clubs and underwriters on a wide range of wet and dry disputes, corporate and compliance matters. Dimitris also advises extensively on the establishment of foreign companies in Greece, and the incorporation, structuring and organisation of Greek companies.
Nikolaos Mathiopoulos advises P&I Clubs, ship-owning companies and charterers on a wide range of wet and dry shipping disputes arising in relation to charter parties, bills of lading, cargoes, shipbuilding contracts, sale and purchase agreements and labour disputes, as well as maritime casualties. Nikolaos also advises clients on insurance and reinsurance matters and their entry into commercial contracts including sale, lease and services agreements.
GTDT: What is the current state of the shipping industry in your country?
George latridis, Dimitris Giomelakis, Dimitris Kapsis and Nikolaos Mathiopoulos: Greek shipowners remain by far the leaders in the global shipping industry. While they have slightly slowed down in the newbuilding sector, major Greek shipowners are investing in high sophisticated vessels (liquefied natural gas ships) or innovative technologies, thus leading the way not only in the commercial sector. At the same time they have become more active in second-hand tonnage, both in the dry bulk market, which has improved since last year, as well as in the tankers sector, where the freight market is poor.
The local ro-ro ferry sector has attracted publicity thanks to a buyout that has seen the rise of one of the biggest operators in the Mediterranean.
The cruise sector also had a very good year and it appears that the current season will be even better.
Piraeus port’s race to the top of the most busy European ports is continuing and the Thessaloniki port is expected to follow after the privatisation and sale of a 67 per cent stake to a foreign investors’ joint venture.
The privatisation of other major Greek ports is also expected to follow.
GTDT: What are the prevailing shipping market trends affecting your country?
Gl, DG, DK & NM: In 2020, under the new global cap, ships will have to use fuel with a sulphur content of no more than 0.5 per cent against the current limit of 3.5 per cent in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases. Owners will have to decide if they want to continue using high sulphur fuel oil, in conjunction with scrubbers; or switch to low sulphur fuel oil (LSFO) options. Time charterers are worried in regard to these developments, as LSFO is some 60 per cent more expensive than existing heavy fuel oil. The container liner industry is also particularly worried, given that carriers charter in a high percentage of their fleet.
“In 2020, under the new global cap, ships will have to use fuel with a sulphur content of no more than 0.5 per cent against the current limit of 3.5 per cent in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases.”
GTDT: Are there any recent domestic or international political or legislative developments that may have an impact on your country’s shipping market?
Gl, DG, DK & NM: Rumours say that the conflict between the European Commission and the Union of Greek Shipowners regarding the local shipping taxation regime seems to have come to an end.
One of the hot topics of the day is the impact of Brexit, although it is still too early to comment on this.
“The Greek legal framework aims to support efforts which safeguard safety at sea and promote a sustainable future for both the environment and the shipping sector.”
GTDT: What are the key regulatory and compliance issues for your country’s shipping market?
Gl, DG, DK & NM:: The Greek legal framework aims to support efforts that safeguard safety at sea and promote a sustainable future for both the environment and the shipping sector. The ratification of EU’s Shipping Recycling Regulation by Greece, which will be in force by the end of 2018, falls within this context – although no Greek shipyards and facilities are yet on the EU approved list.
GTDT: What are the shipping industry’s current sources of finance? How do you predict they will develop, and what are the advantages and challenges to financing a vessel in your country?
Gl, DG, DK & NM:: Developing local banks are gradually gaining bigger stake in the shipping market, while foreign banks seem to prefer financing major players. Private equity funds and leasing companies continue to increase their Greek portfolios. In a nutshell, one could say that as freights go up, the funding options are increasing for shipowners.
GTDT: Have there been any recent significant domestic or foreign court decisions or arbitration awards that impact on your country’s shipping market?
Gl, DG, DK & NM:: We cannot think of a recent significant domestic court decision or arbitration award having an impact in the local shipping market. It is worth noting, though, that the Greek courts have reconfirmed their tendency not to break the limitation of liability provided for by International Conventions.
An interesting development (albeit not a decision or an award) is the establishment of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund for the first time in Piraeus, following a major oil spill caused by the total loss of a tanker at Piraeus Roads.
GTDT: What is the outlook for your country’s shipping market?
Gl, DG, DK & NM:: The contribution of shipping is particularly important for the Greek economy. The foreign currency inflow from maritime services in the past two years was reduced by 29.4 per cent in comparison to 2013–2014, due to the effect of the capital controls introduced in mid-2015. However shipping, along with tourism, continues to be one of the pillars of Greek economy: the Greek shipping community controls approximately 19.2 per cent of the world fleet, with a 365.45 million dead weight tonnage (DWT) fleet on the water and a further 24.47 million DWT on order, being the world’s largest cross-trading fleet.
For global shipping, 2018 is expected to be another challenging year; the dry bulk market is improving, but there is not much optimism for the tanker sector to follow soon.
The Inside Track
What are the particular skills that clients are looking for in an effective shipping lawyer?
Commercial sensitivity and speed of response; understanding the clients’ needs and always trying to find new ways to assist, protect and promote clients’ interest.
What are the key considerations for clients and their lawyers when arranging finance for a shipping transaction?
The main considerations for shipowners are usually specifically transaction focused – ie, how much can they borrow, what is the interest rate or fees and when do they need to repay. Owners would look at what security the bank asks for – personal guarantees and shares pledges would be less attractive. Owners might also expect their financing banks to provide up to date and efficient banking facilities to facilitate operation of vessels.
More generally, lenders with a good track record and commitment to shipping are to be preferred. Those with experienced account officers, and a reputation for supporting owners in tough times are valued. The shipping industry is one of personal relationships, and bank officers and owners would need to get along on a personal level.
What are the most interesting and challenging cases you have dealt with in the past year?
A ro-ro ferry casualty (grounding) off a touristic island. Thanks to our expertise in similar matters, we were instructed by the vessel’s protection and indemnity club to deal with pollution issues and the casualty-related claims.
Also, acting for claimants who suffered losses due to a major oil spill in the Saronic Gulf (including notification of claims to the IOPC Fund).
George Iatridis, Dimitris Giomelakis, Dimitris Kapsis and Nikolaos Mathiopoulos
Ince & Co