Piraeus: EMBCA event underscored ties between the Hellenic Shipping Community and Hellas Liberty Maritime Museum

An interesting panel discussion took place in one of the most historic venues of Greece on the late evening of 8 February 2018. The event was hosted by the East Mediterranean Business Cultural Alliance (EMBCA) at the floating Hellas Liberty Maritime Museum, docked near Piraeus Port Gate 2. The Greek Observer delegation successfully attended the event and distills the most important lessons to be learned from this tremendous in terms of historical importance event.

The Event

EMBCA is a leading U.S.-based organisation consisted of more than 5.000 members connecting different members of the business community who share common East Mediterranean origins. This year, the EMBCA event commemorated the 10th Anniversary from the arrival of the Liberty Ship SS Arthur M. Huddle from Norwalk, Virginia to the Port of Piraeus. Since its arrival back in 2009, under the initiative of prominent members of the Hellenic Shipping Community, the vessel underwent hull restructuring to become the floating Hellas Liberty Maritime Museum.

To commemorate this anniversary, EMBCA hosted the 3rd Annual Hellenic Shipping Panel Discussion on board the museum-vessel. The discussion entailed seven prominent interlocutors and was moderated by EMBCA President Louis Katsos. The U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, referred to the longstanding ties of the U.S. with Greece. The U.S. Ambassador hailed the contribution of Greek ship-owners at the height of World War II, in mobilising their fleets to support the Allies operations all over the world. The Honourable Mr. Pyatt also referred to modern day role of the Hellenic Merchant Shipping community which remains an anchor of stability in the sensitive region of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Credits: twitter.com/xiradakis

For his part, Rhode Island State Senator, Leonidas Raptakis, narrated a short story about the efforts made by members of the U.S. Congress to secure the eventual donation of SS Liberty vessel to the Greek state. In a similar vein, the Greek ship-owner Spyros Polemis narrated his personal efforts and other members of the Hellenic maritime community in giving substance to his own ‘dream’, quoting Martin Luther King’s renowned phrase.  The dream entailed the return of at least one of the vessels from the SS Liberty family back to their base, the port of Piraeus.

Another renowned interlocutor from the Hellenic Merchant Shipping Community, Mr. Aristidis Pittas, President of EuroDry Ltd., made a quick reference to the importance of these commemorations, while ship-owner and President of the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping, George Pateras, expressed his optimism for the future of the Hellenic merchant shipping industry, which is built upon a glorious past and is expected to perform a similar role in the future. For his part, the Vice Admiral of the Hellenic Navy, Ioannis G. Pavlopoulos made a brief statement on the role of the Greek Navy to the security and prosperity of the Mediterranean region and particularly to NATO operations.

Meanwhile, EMBCA’s Vice President Konstantinos Drougos underscored the organisation’s efforts through its events to build cross-cultural inter-exchanges between the Greece and the U.S., a development which would lead both countries and their affected communities into a prosperous and bright future. Finally, a female representative of the Hellenic Maritime Community, Mrs. Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, made reference to the increasing presence of women in elite positions of the world merchant fleet and the contribution of the Hellenic maritime community towards achieving this aspiration.

The Importance of the Steam Ship (SS) Liberty Fleet

EMBCA has been one of the first organisations to support the envisaged construction of a World War II Hellenic Shipping Memorial located in central Manhattan, New York. The memorial would commemorate the Hellenic Shipping Community’s sacrifice in terms of vessels and human capital at the height of World War II in supporting the Allied cause. Further the memorial would underscore the longstanding ties between the U.S. and Greece, especially in Washington’s post-World War II contribution to the rebuilding of the Hellenic Merchant Fleet.

At the height of World War II, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt endorsed the mass construction of the so-called Liberty Class of vessels, which were poised to replace the depleted from war Allied merchant fleets. From early 1941 more than 2.700 Liberty vessels were constructed and eventually sold to allied countries’ merchant fleet representatives at extremely affordable prices. Under the Merchant Ship Sales Act of 1946, the U.S. authorised the sale of the first 100 SS Liberty vessels to Greek ship-owners to honour Greek merchant shipping casualties and fleet damages sustained during the war. These vessels were utilised by members of the Hellenic Merchant Shipping community as the driving forces for the financial reconstruction of post-war Greece and contributed the most to the maritime superiority of the Hellenic Merchant fleet on the high seas.

Today, only three SS Liberty vessels are present in the world, all docked in ports and serving as living history museums.  Under the successful efforts of Greek ship-owners, the Liberty Ship SS Arthur M. Huddle managed to return back to the Port of Piraeus in 2009. The floating museum acts as a living memorial today of the Hellenic shipping community’s invaluable contribution to the Allied cause throughout World War II.

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