BUSINESS

Dimitroula and Romilda make their final voyage

By Nikos Bardounias

Early on a Tuesday morning in late August, the ferryboat Dimitroula, retired four years ago, set off on her final journey to the Aliaga scrap yard in Turkey. The aged vessel, creaky from years of inertia, dutifully allowed herself to be tugged along, providing a spectacle for the passengers of a luxury cruise liner that was docked in the port of Piraeus.

A few hours later, the Romilda, another legendary Greek ferry, followed in the Dimitroula?s wake and fate to the scrap yard.

Officials at the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) estimate that -- weather permitting -- by the end of September, another five ferries that have been taken out of service, and which are not only unsightly but also pose a risk to public safety and sanitation, will be towed out of the busy port.

All seven of the vessels belonged to Gerasimos Agoudimos?s GA Ferries, and their demise began about four years ago when the company, which went bankrupt and was unable to even buy fuel for its ships, removed them from service and tied them up at Piraeus.

In total, the port has been encumbered over the past few years by nine retired vessels, eight belonging to Agoudimos and one to Fotis Manousis: Agoudimos?s Rodanthe, Dimitroula, Milena, Daliana, Anthi-Marina, Marina, Romilda and Super-Jet, and Manousis?s Panaghia Agiasou. His Makedonia ferry is currently docked in Perama, while a tender has been announced for the removal of the last three on the list of boats at Piraeus.

Efforts to remove the decommissioned vessels began taking shape in November 2009 with the revival of a law, Article 9 of Law 2881.2001, ordering the removal of ferries that are no longer in operation. In March 2010, the commission that drew up the law published a paper that deemed 27 shipwrecks, 58 ferries -- including the eight belonging to Agoudimos -- and 27 partially sunken ferries as hazards. The following month, letters were sent to the owners of the vessels ordering them to begin the removal process. Sources at OLP suggest that Agoudimos had at the time requested an extended deadline as he was still looking for potential buyers for his vessels.

Despite being given a three-month reprieve, a buyer was not found and OLP announced its intention to launch the first competition for the removal of the ferries in early December 2010. The competition, however, stalled when Agoudimos filed a suit against OLP and received a ruling from the Council of State, the country?s highest administrative court, freezing the competition until the case was heard. This sparked an intense legal battle between the shipowner and the port authority, which lasted until April 2011, when OLP relaunched the tender after being vindicated in court. The new tender was set for April 5-8, 2011, but proved fruitless as no one expressed an interest in undertaking the project.

Eventually, in the third leg of the competition (May 31 - June 3), and after the starting price was reduced by 20 percent after a decision by OLP?s board, two companies came forward with a proposal. Environmental Protection Engineering SA stated an interest in the Dimitroula, Daliana, Romilda and Marina, while the Spanopoulos Group took on the Milena, Anthi-Marina and Rodanthe.

The two firms deposited 7.2 million euros with OLP and once the vessels are removed this money will be deposited in the Deposits and Loans Fund in favor of the shipowners, after OLP keeps 10 percent of the amount.

?As soon as that happens, all the parties to whom Gerasimos Agoudimos owes money -- the Sailors? Pension Fund, dockworkers, suppliers and such -- will be able to lay claim to their money,? legal sources told Kathimerini.

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