ECONOMY

Ships could soon avoid small islands

March is fast approaching and remote Greek islands may well find themselves without a ferry service unless the current mist over their coastal shipping link lifts.

The four-month extension to the routes from last year, given in November due to the non-completion of tenders, will expire at the end of this month.

Coastal shipping companies appear reluctant to undertake the so-called ?unpopular? routes to islands in the Aegean Sea with little demand, arguing that state subsidies will have to increase as fuel prices have risen by 35 percent compared to 2010.

Industry sources suggest that some 120 million euros will be required for 2011 subsidies to the industry, against a budget provision for just 91.2 million euros by the Maritime Affairs Ministry.

The Coastal Shipping Transport Council met yesterday with company representatives demanding the reactivation of the Coastal Shipping Transport Account that was abolished four years ago. The account subsidized companies rapidly, helping them cover their everyday needs, while payment today is delayed by about six to eight months, with smaller shippers struggling to survive.

?Because of the delays in the payment of subsidies, we will have problems in getting fuel for our ships in the coming days,? the representative of a smaller company told the meeting.

Certain companies also have problems with banks, which no longer accept contracts for serving unpopular routes as a guarantee in order to issue loans. ?Unless a solution is found to this problem, we will not be able to operate, leaving smaller islands without a service,? a small company representative told Kathimerini.