The Baltic Exchange
January 2019, passing by from the famous Baltic Exchange at the heart of City, I heard a group of students from a well-known UK maritime University sitting near the entrance, chatting about a particular subject that even for maritime professionals raises the question; why this historic building has the Greek flag at the entrance? the answer was given by a gentleman while he was entering the building, “to honour the Greeks of course, they have established the maritime industry”. Worth mentioning about the Baltic Exchange that was established at the beginning of the 19th century, but has roots back to the 1750’s, by reputable businessmen in the industry in order to monitor trading, prices for all goods that could be transported by a ship, an important trading room where merchants and brokers could negotiate freights. Greek owners, brokers, and many others have been part of that trading floor almost from the beginning and until now the significance of Greek shipping is represented inside the historical building by the Greek Shipping Corporation Committee.
The first shipowner families arrived in London in the 19th century
Greek Shipping exists in the centre of London for more than 150 years, from the age of the wealthy and famous families of established Greek merchants and bankers. Embiricos family, 200 years of history in the maritime industry, originating from the small island of Andros, they are recognised amongst others as the pioneers of the Greek shipping magnitude. Names as Mavroleon, Rethymnis & Kulukundis, John Samonas, Chatzipateras, Lyras, Lemos are all distinguished in the industry but especially in London where they have established their vast companies.
Shifting from Sails to Steam
Another important milestone in the long relationship between Greeks and the UK is the time when the industry shifted from sails to steam engines. During the middle of the 19th century and closer to the end many companies around the globe started to modernise their fleets, Greeks were among the ones that preferred to buy secondhand ships, as finance for new vessels was very low. Although funding was low, baby steps to move along the new current of improvement began to show a “sleeping giant” was slowly to rise. By the years passing Greek owners started to order new ships from various English Shipyards, which predominately constructed the majority of ships in the industry, and this started to build a tradition that became a long-term relationship between the Greeks and the English. Shipbrokering firms and new shipping companies were created one by one at the beginning of the 20th century and by the end of 1920 Greeks had started to make their path to become part of the international trading arena in London. Rethymnis & Kulukundis (R&K Ltd) is one of the principal examples of the Greek shipping excellence. R&K by the beginning of WW2 had under their ownership over 100 vessels, transporting goods for the English army but also troops and many more. The company played an important role in the transportation mechanism but also the logistics of the British Empire. One of the few Greek companies that lost almost their entire fleet during the war but managed to overcome the gigantic loses and start again to build up. Other Greek companies also shared the importance of their fleets even from the first Great war, WW1, claiming numerous freights by transporting goods to all over the world, serving the needs of the British Crown.
The City of London is home to the most important maritime companies not even Greek but also other international ones, but in fact the Greek companies worked closely together, creating a vast consortium of companies that brought more business than other industries.
What is more, Greek shipping “agents”, brokers and people with maritime background working and living in London, they will always be part of the outgoing Greek shipping marvel that will continue to grow, exist and flourish in the UK even if Brexit will bring new terms to the table for the Greek owners.