Tag Archives: Commercial Shipping

Greece’s Beleaguered Port City

AP Photo/Petros Karadjias

Aspropyrgos is a busy Greek shipping and industrial center. Along with the imported car parts and electronics come illegal drugs, weapons and contraband cigarettes, as well as violence and nationalistic tensions between locals and immigrants. In a sense, Aspropyrgos is a microcosm of Europe itself, struggling to benefit from the global economy while protecting its identity.

In 1843 magazine, Alexander Clapp follows a scrap metal collector and the relative of a murdered businessman to profile the Greek city and its reputation for lawlessness. Despite a violent strain of nationalism that has taken hold in Aspropyrgos, a Chinese business is now trying to develop it into a railway hub in a potentially lucrative distribution network. If the region is going to benefit from outside investment, someone has to tame the violence.

The economic crisis made the lives of the Aspropyrgians harder than ever before. Relations between Pontic Greeks and Roma grew increasingly hostile, as each group blamed the other for their misfortunes. “Look how lawless they are,” Kostas says of his Roma neighbours. “They leave their trash and their kids everywhere.” Lambros views people like Kostas as intruders. “Nothing bad came in from the sea before they got there,” he says. Into the void left by the emaciated and neglectful state stepped Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party that has thrived on resentment of austerity.

Golden Dawn attracts nearly one in three votes in Aspropyrgos. Kostas heartily supports them; so does almost every other Pontic Greek I meet. Many approve of Golden Dawn’s willingness to put the Roma in their place, often through brute force. But even more attractive to Pontic Greeks is Golden Dawn’s veneration of their distinctive identity. By resisting assimilation and maintaining their traditions for thousands of years, the Pontic Greeks affirm Golden Dawn’s central tenet: that the Greeks are exceptional people. They preserve the connection to the era of Hellenic supremacy. While others treat them as interlopers, Golden Dawn elevates them to aristocrats. No other politicians have ever talked to them like this before.

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Avast, Ye Mateys: There’s Insurance Fraud Ahead

The Yemeni coast guard patrols the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen (AP Photo/Mohammed al-Qadhi)

Bloomberg’s Kit Chellel and Matthew Campbell have done yeoman’s work uncovering the details of the (alleged) hijacking of the commercial shipping vessel Brillante Virtuoso off the coast of Yemen in 2011. There are enormous, multi-million dollar ships. Pirates. Murder. Email hacking. Tug boats. Rally racers. Veiled courtroom threats. There is little that is not fascinating in the convoluted, dangerous story, not least this peek into the byzantine machinations of Lloyd’s of London’s risk insurance.

Anytime a commercial vessel is lost, the incident is recorded with a quill pen in a leatherbound book at Lloyd’s, a London institution that blends age-old ritual with modern finance. Contrary to common belief, Lloyd’s isn’t an insurer, or even a company in the usual sense of the word. Since its origins in a 17th century coffeehouse popular with traders who funded sea voyages, Lloyd’s has evolved into something like a stock exchange for risk, where actual insurers come to buy and sell exposure. These companies form syndicates and get insurance of their own from even larger re-insurers, who are re-re-insured in turn. These layers constitute one of the world’s most essential and least understood markets, where premiums alone generate about $40 billion a year. Anything that might be lost or cause a loss, from Bruce Springsteen’s voice to a Virgin Galactic spacecraft, can be insured via Lloyd’s, but shipping remains at its core. Some 80 to 100 major vessels are lost each year, and the Brillante was one of the largest of 2011.

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