ECONOMY

Western Cyclades take charge over sea links

The islands of Kythnos, Serifos, Sifnos, Kimolos and Milos have decided to embark on an ambitious plan to set up and launch their own ferry service in a bid to rekindle tourism in the Western Cyclades and to ensure that residents have a reliable service when they need it.

Faced with poor connections with the country’s main port, Piraeus, local authorities at the five picturesque islands have decided to take matters into their own hands to help their local economies, particularly in the crucial summer tourism period. Consequently, as Milos Mayor Gerasimos Damoulakis told Kathimerini, “we are attempting to make the most of European Union funds in order to finance the construction of our own ship at a Greek shipyard.”

The initial idea dates to 2012 when European Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Commissioner Maria Damanaki informed local mayors that European Union funds are available for bankrolling to up to 95 percent of the cost of projects that would improve sea links to the islands.

The idea is now going ahead in cooperation with the National Technical University of Athens, which is responsible for drawing up the study for the project.

However, as it is unlikely that the initiative will begin bearing fruit anytime soon, local authorities are scrambling to make up for the transport shortage as this year’s season opens.

In fact, one of the biggest problems the islands face – as noted during a recent event on the coastal shipping network of the Western Cyclades in the southern Aegean – is that the coastal shipping firm that operates the service for this string of islands, Cyclades Ferries, has repeatedly failed to publish its schedule in due time. In fact, the company has yet to post the schedule for this summer, preventing visitors who wish to travel to the Western Cyclades from planning their vacation and making the necessary bookings.

Merchant Marine Ministry officials told Kathimerini that concerted efforts are being made to pressure the ferry company into publishing its timetable on the electronic booking system (FORTHcrs SA), but they have been in vain.

Damoulakis further argues that besides chartering new ships, the existing ones should be used in a more rational manner so that they serve as many passengers as possible.

Milos, Damoulakis said, is the only one among the five islands that seems to have solved its problem for this summer. Having the biggest port of the five, it will be served by the Blue Star Diagoras ferry, running regular routes between the island and Piraeus. The ports at the other four islands, however, are too small for this ship.