John Angelicoussis was not just Greece’s biggest shipowner. The deceased magnate was also the staunchest supporter of the country’s flag at a time when most of his peers were busy registering their vessels under offshore jurisdictions.

The company’s Greek-flag policy started with his father but John Angelicoussis continued it and brought it to new heights.

Almost all of Angelicoussis Shipping Group (ASG)’s 140 vessels fly the Greek flag, accounting alone for nearly one-third of the country’s entire oceangoing fleet.

The growth of Angelicoussis' national-flag fleet has been in stark contrast to trends in Greek-controlled shipping, which has been booming as well — but under foreign flags.

Between 1982 and 2020, the share of the commercial fleet under the Greek flag as part of the world total dwindled from 11% to 3.3% in terms of tonnage, according to United Nations figures.

“If it wasn’t for Angelicoussis’ ships, the Greek flag would be sunk,” said Panos Laskaridis, a Greek owner and former president of the European Community Shipowners’ Associations.

"The impact on Greek seafarers would be devastating, since he was the biggest employer for oceangoing seafarers," Laskaridis added.

Domestic law requires that the masters and some senior officers on Greek-flagged vessels must be locals. Angelicoussis’ huge fleet thus provided jobs and training to hundreds of Greek seafarers, sustaining maritime traditions which many fear are on the wane.

“Through the Greek flag he tried to forge a bond between the head office and the crews,” said John Platsidakis, a senior former ASG executive who worked at Angelicoussis’ side for more than 40 years.

The Greek flag was costlier than those many of his competitors went for, but Angelicoussis had a wider perspective.

"He didn’t care if he would have saved $500 or $1,000 per ship with a different flag — he was looking at the strategic benefits his country would derive from maintaining maritime traditions," said Anastasios Papagiannopoulos, a life-long acquaintance, friend and former Bimco chief.

“John Angelicoussis honoured maritime tradition and our home country in every way,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a statement. “He conquered the oceans by raising the Greek flag.”