THE SHIPPING sector is the unsung hero of the Cyprus economy. Its very significant contribution is noted every two years when the Maritime Cyprus conference is held and duly forgotten until the next time. That it receives some coverage in the media is because the president always addresses the opening day of the conference which attracts top people of the shipping industry from all over the world.
Shipping has traditionally gone under the radar, even though it contributes 7 per cent of GDP and revenue from ship management companies increased 9 per cent in 2018, from €948 million in 2017 to €1.03 billion. Cyprus has the third largest merchant fleet in Europe and the eleventh in the world, while the industry employs 3 per cent of the island’s workforce, more than half of them graduates.
This impressive contribution to the economy comes without industrial unrest or strike threats, and without demands for financial support from the state ever being heard. This could be because most of the shipping companies are foreign-owned and their operations are unrelated to the domestic market. As a consequence of this, there is no interference from the political parties in the way there is in all other sectors of the economy, including banking and tourism.
Until a little over a year ago, when the deputy ministry of shipping was set up, there was only the department of merchant shipping to deal with the sector. Yet the department with the co-operation and continuous support of the Cyprus Chamber of Shipping (CSC), an independent body set up by the shipping companies that marked its 30th anniversary this year, did an excellent job. The department, however, always acknowledged the contributions of the CSC and the Cyprus Union of Shipowners, that lobbied for changes, undertook initiatives and promoted Cyprus abroad.
The only thing holding back the sector is the unsolved Cyprus problem because Turkey’s embargo on Cyprus-flagged ships is the biggest obstacle to the growth of the Cyprus register. There has been growth despite this, but nowhere near where it could have been if relations with Turkey were normalised. The fact that the sector is flourishing in spite of the embargo and making such a big contribution to GDP is a measure of its success, all achieved through the work of the industry itself.
Cyprus shipping is a success story that never receives the credit it so thoroughly deserves. It is a shining example of the long-term benefits of foreign investment in something other than real estate.