ECONOMY

Ministry cruising on optimism for 2011

The Maritime Affairs Ministry is optimistic about the number of cruise ships seen docking at Piraeus, but the positive mood has been dampened by Louis Group?s decision to lower the Greek flag on three of its vessels.

The ministry?s optimism is based on three factors: a new law which allows cruise ships without a European Union flag to perform circular cruises with Piraeus as their starting point; an increase in programmed cruise ship arrivals this year (939 vessels against 883 in 2010); and the general growing popularity of holiday cruises internationally.

Cruise Lines International Association data suggest the number of holidaymakers to opt for cruises this year will rise by 6.6 percent to 16 million.

The optimism, according to Minister Yiannis Diamantidis, is also based on contacts with representatives of big cruise operators including MSC, Carnival, Costa and Royal Caribbean, who have shown an interest in including Greece in their schedules.

In a recent statement, Diamantidis said: ?Costa announced its aim to increase the number of tourists it will bring to Greece in 2011 by 50 percent. It is to their benefit to start cruise lines to the Eastern Mediterranean from Greece, as they will save time and money due to the fuel used, compared with nowadays when they depart from Italian ports and have to sail across the Adriatic.?

Nevertheless, the representatives of the major foreign cruise companies in Greece are reserved about the optimistic message from the government. Louis Group?s decision to lower the Greek flag on three of its vessels suggests that the new regulatory framework on cruis ships, which allows the involvement of non-EU-flagged vessels, renders those bearing the Greek flag noncompetitive.