ECONOMY

Coastal shippers resort to lower speeds, smaller ferries

About half of the 30 ferries that sail from the Attica ports of Piraeus, Rafina and Lavrio to the Aegean islands and Crete may well be temporarily laid up for at least the next three months due to lack of cash to pay for the fuel they need, whose price has soared 107 percent since 2009, according to coastal shipping sources. Companies have also extended the sailing time of vessels in a bid to contain costs.

Fuel accounts for some 60 percent of daily operating costs of ships and its price has skyrocketed in the last three years: The type of fuel that conventional ferries use cost 294 euros per ton in June 2009 and rose to 598 euros in June 2012.

In the last three years coastal shipping companies have accumulated losses that now exceed 1 billion euros. Given the 15 percent decline in passengers and 20 percent drop in vehicles in the last 10 months, along with the prospect of a further drop, firms are planning to replace large ferries with smaller ones to operate at a lower cost.

Nowadays everyone in the sector agrees that the next few months will see a significant fall in the number of ships operating from Attica ports to the Aegean as companies will be forced to moor their vessels or charter them on profit-making routes abroad, as several have already done.

?When you have a conventional ferry with a capacity of 1,800 passengers and 250 vehicles, and the daily traffic does not even reach 20 percent of that, you cannot afford to operate it as you will constantly add losses. You either moor it or charter it elsewhere,? a source from the Association of Greek Coastal Shipping Companies told Kathimerini.

At the same time coastal shippers have reduced the traveling speed of their vessels, taking it down from 26-28 knots to just 20-21 knots, which means delays of up to two hours, depending on the destination. They say that doing this reduces their daily costs by some 7 to 8 percent.