Feeling the pinch, ferry companies seek better terms

A considerable number of Greece?s islands – and not just remote ones – are at risk of being stranded from the mainland in the coming months as a result of the financial difficulties being faced by coastal shipping companies and state interference in the shipping sector.

In the first nine months of 2011, listed coastal shipping companies lost more than 100 million euros because of a drop in bookings (both passengers and vehicles) as well as soaring fuel prices.

Total losses last year reached 300 million euros.

In a bid to save the coastal shipping industry and maintain services to the country?s islands, representatives of the sector have urged the government to introduce a more flexible policy and to harmonize Greece?s institutional framework with European Union regulations.

Kathimerini has learned that company representatives insist there is a need to take a fresh look at the main obstacles hampering the growth of the sector. Among the firms? demands is that shipowners be free to determine the duration of labor contracts with seamen.

Another demand is said to be the abolition of fixed 12-month contracts. Companies claim that existing legislation runs against EU legislation and needs to change.

Another important issue, sector representatives say, concerns the scheduling of high-speed vessels such as catamarans and monohulls. However, the scheduling of these vessels and crews? contracts must not exceed a five-month limit. The current legislation obliges companies to hire crews for a duration of 10 months and provide ferry services for seven-and-a-half months, which adds to operation costs and increases the prices of tickets.

Until the government decides to abolish fixed yearly contracts, sector representatives have suggested the establishment of a pool of sailors occasionally employed by all companies.

This will help protect jobs and provide a cushion against the aforementioned proposed measures, sources inside the Association of Greek Coastal Shipping Companies said.

Finally, sector representatives have urged the government to scrap the existing ceiling on ticket prices as well as to abolish the 3 percent surcharge on all tickets in order to raise money to subsidize public service routes.