Liberate passenger shipping

Greek shipping is a private sector activity, but one could be excused for thinking otherwise by the way the State treats domestic passenger shipping. A comparison with state-owned, state-fed airline Olympic is staggering. Olympic Airways, for one, has the right to schedule any type of aircraft over a certain line, according to passenger traffic. In summer, it uses Airbus planes to service the busier island destinations. When traffic slows down in the winter, it flies smaller craft. The same holds true, of course, for the private airlines. In ostensibly privately owned coastal shipping, we witness phenomena such as the following: Hellas Flying Dolphins (HFD) has launched one of its new acquisitions, the Phaedra, on the Chios-Lesvos line. This is an especially large and, for this particular run, costly ship. In off-peak times, the Phaedra often carries more crew than passengers, plus a few trucks, making it, in essence, a luxury Ro/Ro (roll-on, roll-off carrier). The natural solution would be for the Phaedra to be replaced with a smaller ship to help cut HFD’s costs. Right? Wrong, says the Merchant Marine Ministry, which also obliges ferry companies to carry a full crew during the off-peak season. In another example, Olympic and other airlines fly certain island routes, such as to Rhodes or Santorini. There is a single destination and passengers wishing to travel to nearby cities or villages must find other means of transport. In the case of ships, there are often two mandatory stops at a single island. In Samos, ships stop at Karlovassi and Vathi. The same is true for ships bound to Icaria, or Skopelos. If this is not heavy-handed state intervention, I wonder what is. It is a little too soon to ask newly appointed Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Anomeritis to intervene. He is still learning the ropes. The best advice would be for him to see what is happening in other European Union countries and act accordingly. Anomeritis has served as the governor of a large state bank, Agricultural. He should look to Greek shipping with a banker’s eye. We cannot, on the one hand, celebrate the recently announced merger of Greece’s two largest banks, National and Alpha, and, on the other, hound (former Minoan Flying Dolphins executive) Pantelis Sfinias to a premature death by suicide because he attempted something similar in shipping. Similarly, former Merchant Marine Minister Stavros Soumakis was condemned to the political wilderness for giving his blessing – as if he could have done otherwise – to Minoan’s expansion. However, those who masterminded the bank merger are lauded by the media. Why? The new minister should take a careful look at the following: the insistence on complete back-up crews; the obligation that ships must be in service at least 10 months per year and the fact that insurance fees have skyrocketed (up to 600 percent) since the terrorist attacks on September 11.

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