In the world of protection and indemnity insurance, Britannia P&I is not normally associated with the Greek market.

The London-based mutual’s international growth has been successfully focused on the Far East and Asia.

In the 2000s, the UK-based mutual only had one Greek owner on its books and was in danger of falling behind its competitors in the world’s largest shipowning country.

It finally decided to do something about it and began work on building up a client base but things only really started to pick up when it opened an office in Athens in late 2018.

It was the last of the International Group of P&I Clubs’ members — with the exception of the more specialised Japan P&I Club and Shipowners’ Club — to open up an office in Athens and had a lot of catching up to do.

Since the Piraeus office opened its doors, the Britannia book of Greek business has grown from 15m gt to 26m gt and Greek members from 27 to 39.

The Greek book is mainly made up of bulkers and tankers but it also now includes markets in which Greek owners have grown recently and in which Britannia also has a strong presence such as LNG and LPG vessels.

The growth has been dramatic despite the Greek office not directly dealing with local underwriting, which is still handled from its headquarters in London.

Office head and divisional director Konstantinos Samaritis, who learned the ropes of the P&I business at Skuld and Standard Club, said having a local presence is important when dealing with the Greek market.

“It certainly made a difference when we opened an office here because local shipowners want to deal directly with us,” he said.

“The idea was to retain our existing membership and expand our relationships.”

But the outpost is more than just a hand-shaking and marketing exercise.

Claims handling

The Piraeus office has become a key regional claims office with a handling division of six people to cater to the growing local client base.

The Greek membership is also being reflected in the Britannia members’ representative board, where Dimitri Frank Saracakis of Ionic Shipping, Diana Shipping president Anastasios Margaronis and GasLog Partners chief executive Paolo Enoizi sit on the representative committee.

Samaritis is confident that there is plenty of room for growth in Greece. As an insurer with AAA-rated financial strength, Britannia is one of the wealthiest of the P&I clubs with free reserves close to $600m.

That sort of financial security is a big attraction in the Greek market and a requirement for the increasing number of publically quoted Greek shipowners.

But the club is focusing on tonnage, which fits with the Britannia ethos. “We believe there are good prospects for us here, but it will be with cautious steps and any growth has to be on the right terms,” Samaritis said.

“With new accounts, we have to be careful and selective and make sure they fit the Britannia profile,” he said.