Government stalls as shipowners warn of ‘exodus’

Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Paschalidis said yesterday that measures to entice Greek shipowners to raise the Greek flag on all their ships will have to wait. Asked about the subject, Paschalidis said it had been referred to a committee of officials from the Merchant Marine and Economy ministries. He added that it was a complex subject, covering issues of employment, training quality, safety and protection of the environment. «We must be realistic. In order to attract ships to the Greek shipping register we need economic incentives,» Paschalidis said. These measures promised to shipowners have been delayed for months, to the owners’ chagrin. They had made specific proposals to the government, which included longstanding requests to abolish restrictions on crew composition and to be more flexible on the working hours of foreign crews. These proposals had been made to Paschalidis’s predecessor, Giorgos Anomeritis, who was replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle in July. According to ministry sources, Paschalidis has proposed to Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis to subsidize the social security contributions of lower ranking members of Greek crews and also to subsidize a second training trip abroad of students at the Merchant Marine academies. These measures, even if enacted, will address a very small part of the issue and only indirectly. «If the government does not address our demands quickly and squarely, we cannot tackle the issue of competitiveness successfully,» an official from the Union of Greek Shipowners told Kathimerini. «We should begin to wonder, who is to be responsible for a likely mass exodus from the Greek flag. Our companies fight every day in a difficult and totally globalized sector, that of maritime transport,» the source added. Also yesterday, Paschalidis announced measures for increased inspections on all passenger ships in the runup to the 2004 Athens Olympics. «We want to ensure quality of service but also the safety of passengers and the ships themserlves,» Paschalidis said. Inspections will target safety systems, evacuation procedures and hygiene in the ships’ bars and restaurants. Many of these inspections will be made during the «idle» summer season, when ships are berthed and undergo renovations or repairs.

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