It is an honor and privilege for me to greet you this afternoon and open the Joint Maritime Conference organized by Naftika Chronika and the Embassy of Norway. It is also highly inspiring to see such a high level representation from key Greek and Norwegian companies being present at this occasion. And I am personally very grateful to Mr Panos Laskaridis and the Laskaridis family for hosting us here today. This is a much appreciated gesture.
With this Conference, I hope to achieve at least at least two things:
First, to look at some important technological changes in shipping and the maritime sector that will potentially precipitate or even accelerate a transformative change within this sector itself, and discuss how we can turn these current changes into advantages for the industry.
Second, to discuss how Greece and Norway can further expand the potentials for maritime cooperation and partnership, with a view to new opportunities in addition to those already conceived.
I would like to underline that we all see a lot of technological changes coming, and I know that you are more familiar with them than I am. What is certain is that these changes will strongly influence the structural development of the maritime sector as well as its framework conditions for operation.
In that respect, I believe we have to act pro-actively in responding to these changes, and consequently move out of our respective comfort zones –
if we are to keep up with the fast-paced development.
Some of these changes are related to the Green Shift, such as energy savings, clean fuels, ballast water treatment and electrification.
Some others are aimed at Efficiency, - such as autonomous ships and digital solutions. Change is a most demanding phenomenon, and I can understand why a lot of ship-owners often feel that changes come too soon, are too costly and will significantly challenge the profit margins. But even though this industry and maritime transport is the greenest mode of transport there is, I believe the industry needs to embrace change and turn new challenges around to the advantage of the industry itself.
The more the industry can take an active part in this structural change, the more sensible and sector-leaning regulations will be set out by the regulatory authorities. In this way, the maritime industry should be a strong an integral part of forward-looking, constructive solutions to common challenges.
Let me turn to the Greek - Norwegian dimension. One notion I sometimes come across pertaining the current state of Norwegian blue water shipping activity, is that this sector has lost its traditional role in Norway. That we have over the years have re-allocated our financial, material and human resources from the maritime, industrial sector, to the sector of energy-related off-shore activities.
It is true that oil and gas exploration and exploitation is a key component of the Norwegian economy, and so are the supply vessels important in Norway’s maritime cluster. However, we should not forget that Norwegian ship-owners still control a significant number of tankers, bulk carriers, roll-on-roll-off ships designed to carry wheeled cargo as well as other vessels.
But - and more importantly - our maritime competence is still very much alive. Much of this competence has gone from owning and operating ships, into providing financing services, offering maritime services and developing cutting-edge maritime technology.
A broader look will suggest that the Norwegian maritime cluster has never had a more significant role to our national economy as right now. So, even if we rank lower in tonnage, we still remain one of the leading maritime nation.
Indeed, we see the ocean economy as existential to our future. Because the maritime prospects will be even more important when we look into the coming decades. The Ocean Space is emerging as one of the largest and most promising global resource base, offering vast business opportunities for a whole range of Ocean Industries. Key resources will continue to come from the oceans, and shipping should remain the most cost effective and environmentally sound way of carrying out long-distance transport.
In this context we should not forget about the estimation made by the OECD last year, suggesting that the Ocean economy has a potential of doubling its contribution to global value creation by 2030.
And key players within maritime industries in Norway have for long realized that being at the technological forefront, and being able to deal effectively with new challenges –
Gives us the best basis and professional condition for developing and sustaining a sharp, competitive edge across time.
And here comes my bilateral point: Far from being severe competitors and rivals on the High Sea as we were in the past, Norway and Greece has today become partners by developing complementary maritime economies that will stand to benefit much more from cooperation rather than from competition.
Faced with the global competition of our time, I believe that the combination of Greece’s uncontested position in ship ownership and
Norway’s lead in developing sophisticated, maritime technology really deserves a closer look. For this reason we are her to discuss, and I really do hope that the presentations given by the various companies will inspire and instigate this cooperation even more in the future.
I will end by emphasizing that for the ocean economies to grow in the way we envisage, we also need to ensure environmental sustainability of the Ocean. The Maritime industry is global in nature. Norway works actively to promote global standards and global solutions. Ocean plastic and ocean protection is one area where Norway allocates significant funding and strive to find new solutions through new technology and management practice.
In this context, we believe that a strategic partnership between the industry and the authorities is key to ensure a competitive and a prosperous industry that is compatible with safeguarding the marine environment. The Industry knows well about the needs for new technology, new products, services and business models. The authorities should of course support and facilitate this, but should also look into the broader picture of what an increased utilization of the Ocean space actually entails.
A last point, please let me mention a concrete tool that will provide opportuities for closer cooperation between our two countries.
Tomorrow we will launch a program of grants to Greek companies through the EEA Fund, to which Norway is the main donor. This program will focus on Blue Growth, Green energy and ICT. All of these three areas mentioned have great potentials for benefitting the Greek maritime industry. At the Norwegian Embassy, we hope to see this program as a driver of furthering our cooperation, just as we would like to see Conference igniting sparks and energy for the same reason.
After the conference I look forward to hosting you for a reception at the yacht club here in Pireus. I really do hope you all will have the opportunity to participate. But first, we have some interesting discussions ahead of us.
So please, in that respect, think outside the box, or even better, enter the conceptual landscape where no boxes exist. I have gradually come to the conclusion that the only sustainable approach to creative thinking today is reflections and projections without a box.
I wish you all a very productive session!