ECONOMY

Saronic fleet forced to make up for HSW sales

The boats that currently serve passengers traveling to and from the Saronic Gulf are set to increase the frequency of sailings to make up for the recent sale of two of the main vessels that worked the routes from Piraeus to the islands of Aegina, Agistri, Poros, Hydra and Spetses.

The decision follows this week?s intervention by Merchant Marine Minister Costas Mousouroulis, who proposed that the existing vessels that cover the itineraries — mostly hydrofoils, and, if needed, a conventional ferry too — make additional trips to and from the five islands.

?A commonly acceptable solution was found as it is not possible for an additional ship to enter the Saronic itinerary,? a well-informed source told Kathimerini.

This route is considered one of the most important in Greek coastal shipping as in 2011 a total of 2,467,886 passengers traveled from Piraeus to the Saronic islands, while traffic to all other Aegean islands came to 9,351,135 passengers.

The problem emerged a few weeks ago when the Hellenic Seaways (HSW) coastal shipping company?s Flying Cat II and Nefeli vessels were withdrawn and sold in order to cover the firm?s cash needs. The decision to take the ships off the itinerary resulted in a dramatic deterioration in services to Aegina, Agistri, Poros, Hydra and Spetses, provoking a strong reaction from local authorities, as well as the commercial and tourism industry, who spoke of ?a decision that condemns local communities to economic deprivation at the height of the tourism season.?

In a letter to HSW, the mayors of Poros, Hydra and Spetses said that ?our islands need some attention, especially at this point in time when our country and these islands need tourism growth more than ever for very obvious reasons.?

The letter added that ?coastal shipping connections that aim to serve permanent residents and provide easy access for tourists wishing to visit our uniquely beautiful islands are absolutely necessary and compulsory.?

The deputy regional governor for the Saronic Islands, Dimitris Katsikaris, asked for a solution to be found immediately, after the Flying Cat II, a high-speed vessel, and the Nefeli, a conventional ferryboat, were withdrawn. He went on to accuse the Coastal Shipping Transport Council of allegedly taking the islands backward and driving local professionals to desperation at the start of an already difficult tourism season.

The president of the Greek Small Islands Network, Lefteris Kechagioglou, told Kathimerini that ?the network?s aim is to push for the drafting of an integrated proposal regarding the strengthening of coastal shipping services to the Saronic islands to be submitted to Brussels. The memorandum to be prepared will be given to European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs Maria Damanaki and the Commission?s Directorate-General for Transport in Brussels.?

For their part, HSW representatives suggested that the company had to sell the two vessels in order to cover financial requirements and noted there was no margin for the use of another ship on the route as traffic has gone down, the cost of fuel has soared and the vessels operating the route have a low rate of ticket sales.

Nevertheless, they agreed to boost existing services on the itinerary, while unconfirmed reports suggest that a conventional ship will be used from next year.