British Ambassador to Greece, John Kittmer

John Kittmer

Former UK ambassador to the Hellenic Republic

Part of Greek Blogyssey

16th October 2013 Athens, Greece

Two sea-faring nations

When they appointed me ambassador, I knew almost nothing about the maritime world – whether naval or mercantile. Sure, I had grown up near one of the most important ports in England and had gone to school there. In the 19th century, the fleet of Hull was principally occupied with whaling. In the 20th century, until the 1970s, it was deep-sea fishing. But when I started secondary school in the city in 1978, the glory of the maritime industry belonged unavoidably to the past. And, in any case, my distant ancestors were landlubbers, not seafarers.

Since my arrival in Athens, I’ve spent many hours every week on shipping. I’ve had various meetings with members of the Greek Union of Shipowners and the Hellenic Maritime Chamber, and in May I attended their annual event, in the presence of the Prime Minister. In addition to that, I’ve met the responsible Greek Ministers, the Chief of the Coastguard and many other representatives of Greek maritime interests.

These contacts are useful and they count. The fact is that Greek shipowners control roughly 16% of the world’s dry-cargo and container fleet, and about one-quarter of its oiltankers. The importance of the Greek fleet is undeniable. Absolutely undeniable. The Greek fleet is competitive and flexible. By adopting a notably aggressive policy of cost control, Greek shipowners seem to have survived the crisis better than their German, Scandinavian and Japanese rivals. 

In comparison with the Greek fleet, the British merchant marine is now small. But Britain has an enormous concentration of companies providing world-renowned maritime services. London remains the top global centre for chartering ships (our shipbrokers transact 30-40% of global dry-cargo charters), for international maritime arbitration (3,492 maritime disputes were referred for arbitration to London in 2010), and for insurance. Lloyds Register is world-renowned. Britain has many universities and training-colleges specializing in maritime education. Overall, the sector supports 55,000 jobs in Britain.

For two centuries, the links between British and Greek shipping have been very strong. Near my home in London, in West Norwood, we have the most famous Greek cemetery in England. Buried there are representatives from the most illustrious seafaring families in Greece – chiefly but not exclusively from Chios. My aim is to strengthen these long-standing ties.

That’s why in June we organized the second Greek-British Shipping Forum at my Residence, with the enthusiastic participation of the then Greek Shipping Minister and his British opposite number, Stephen Hammond MP. At the start of September, the new Greek Shipping Minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, visited London for the first London International Shipping Week. The Lord Mayor of London will come to Greece in November. Next year, the biennial event Poseidonia will take place in Athens. In the meantime, the Greek Presidency of the European Union will focus its energies on….the sea.

We are two seafaring nations, at the edge of Europe, and we share, at least as far as shipping is concerned, a common international and global perspective. Our co-operation in this area is vital for the European economy. Let us continue our efforts together!


I had the honour recently of getting acquainted with the work of two wonderful Greek NGOs: ELEPAP, which looks after people with mobility disorders and development needs, and ARCHELON, which studies and protects sea turtles and their habitats. In both cases, I was impressed by the commitment and professionalism of the staff and of the organisations’ volunteers. The need for volunteering is an important theme, which I’ll look at in future blogs. Meanwhile, you can find more information below:

Enjoy the autumn.

About John Kittmer

John Kittmer was Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic from 2013 to 2016.