Greek shipping firms threatened by age limit rule

Passenger shipping companies have raised the alarm, arguing that their fleet will have been reduced by over 50 percent in 2008 if there is no change in a clause of Law 2932/2001 requiring the withdrawal from service of ships over 30 years old. Given the difficulties of drawing capital from the Athens Stock Exchange to renew the fleet and the lack of interest on the part of Greek and foreign potential strategic partners, the law may prove fatal to the companies themselves and domestic sea transport, passenger shippers claim. According to a study by Giorgos Xiradakis, managing director of XRTC Business Consultants, who act as maritime financing consultants to Credit Lyonnais, if there is no change in the law, then by 2008 the number of ships active in the domestic market will have been reduced by 68 percent. Consequently, passenger capacity will decline 88 percent, auto capacity by 58 capacity and truck-carrying capacity by 62 percent. The law, passed in 2001, stipulates that ships over 35 years old must cease operations by December 2005; those over 34 must have been withdrawn by December 2006; the following December, all ships over 32; and, by December 2008, all passenger ships over 30 years old. No conventional ships Xiradakis said there would be no impact on the eight biggest passenger shipping companies, since four of those may have no or just one conventional ship left in their fleets. Specifically, the following fleet reductions will take place: – Minoan Lines: It currently has nine conventional ships. In 2008, it will have eight and in 2012, also eight. – ANEK: Currently, it has 11 ships; its fleet will be reduced to eight by 2008 and five by 2005. – Blue Star Ferries (Strintzis): Its fleet of 11 conventional ships will have been reduced to seven by 2008 and will stay at that level in 2012. – Hellas Flying Dolphins: Its current fleet of 15 ships will have been reduced to just one by 2008 and will stay at that level in 2012. – Maritime Company of Lesvos (NEL): It currently owns three conventional ships. All three must be withdrawn by 2008. – GA Ferries: All of its six ships must be withdrawn by 2008. The only company that will not lose in the deal is Super Fast Ferries, whose 10 passenger ships will still be around at the end of 2012. Similar reductions await some companies which own high-speed ships, especially Hellas Flying Dolphins, whose fleet of 28 ships will have been reduced to 13 by 2008 and just two by 2012. Its High Speed catamarans have been built recently enough to still be around at the end of 2012, as are those of NEL and GA Ferries. The data show that, if no new investment is made, something quite likely under current circumstances, there is a danger that the passenger shipping sector will shrink irreversibly, both in the number of ships operating and in their carrying capacity. As a result, the passenger shipping network will be reduced. According to Xiradakis, «The implementation of this particular law is directly affected by developments concerning the application, or not, of the Stockholm Treaty, to all EU member states. Even a change in the content of the law and the adoption of a community directive on the basis of the treaty will force passenger shippers to invest more in their old vessels, making them financially burdensome to operate.» Passenger shipping today Total demand for the two main markets – the Aegean and Adriatic seas, not counting ferry services between Rio-Antirio – comes to nearly 22 million passengers and 3 million vehicles annually. Specifically, last year the Aegean market saw 18,350,000 passengers, 1,560,000 cars and 566,000 trucks. In the Adriatic Sea market, 2,498,000 passengers, 2,086,000 cars and 979,000 trucks were transported. The main passenger shipping companies nowadays offer 123 vessels, conventional and high-speed, to meet the market’s needs. Of these, 95 are active in the domestic market and 28 on the Adriatic Seas. These companies cover 90 percent of the national sea transport needs. Positive outlook This problem, unfortunately, has arisen at a time where prospects appear otherwise positive, partly because of the Olympic Games. Maritime transport experts believe that, just on the 11 main Aegean routes, passengers will increase by 9.8 percent, cars by 7.7 percent and trucks by 41 percent by 2005. On his part, Xiradakis appears even more optimistic, forecasting an 18.2 percent rise in passengers, 17.5 percent in cars and 13.2 percent in trucks. Thus, if the State changes the current age limit, liberalizes economy class fares and adopts a true market liberalization – without the so-called «public interest» routes to out-of-the-way islands, passenger shipping will certainly recover, further improve the already high-quality services it offers and offer cheaper fares through healthy competition.