A procession of thousands of elderly foreign tourists walk slowly away from the luxurious Royal Princess cruise ship they have just disembarked and along the Piraeus docks in the hot sun, with the temperature pushing 35 degrees and the humidity high.
A special cruise around the Greek seas, at no small cost, ends with a uniquely unpleasant experience that none is likely ever to forget beneath the gaze of striking port workers, who are in Piraeus port to ensure the success of their industrial action, i.e. to prevent the coaches of the cruise company from entering the port to pick up the passengers and their luggage.
Even in the toughest dockworker strikes around the world, cruise passenger services are usually allowed to operate during industrial action. Not so in Greece, though, as, three weeks in, the ongoing strike against the privatization of Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) has created huge problems for cruise companies and turned the beginning and the end of thousands of tourists’ vacations into an ordeal.
From 3 a.m. last Saturday, when the Royal Princess docked in Piraeus, until well into the afternoon, crew members carried bags, suitcases and supplies under the watchful eye of the unionists of the Federation of Hellenic Port Workers (OMYLE).
The captain of the Royal Princess went down to the dock to assist his crew and to attempt to calm his angry passengers. Alongside him, one could also spot Bill Sharp, the vice president of port and shore operations at Holland America Line, a Carnival Corporation subsidiary, carrying passengers’ suitcases, too. Sharp is the very man responsible for deciding whether Piraeus and Greece will be included in the schedules of the floating palaces. His opinion carries major significance, and the omens are not good.
After sending a letter to the government asking for the issue to be settled before last Saturday, Sharp then demanded to meet with Shipping Minister Theodoros Dritsas. From the ministry’s window, Sharp showed Dritsas the procession of seniors struggling in the sun, demanding an solution. But to no avail.
The same problems have been faced by other ships and cruise companies that have docked at Piraeus in the last three weeks. As the rolling strikes continue, the next big date is this Monday, when the Carnival Vista is set to arrive. This is the only major cruise liner to use Piraeus for home porting, which is the holy grail of the cruise industry. Great efforts have been made for cruise ships to use Piraeus as their home port. Unfortunately, Carnival Vista also belongs to Sharp’s company, and he has seen what this country has to offer visitors besides sun, sea, history and beaches.