The Cabinet yesterday approved a series of positive, albeit greatly belated, measures for the Greek shipping industry, aimed at boosting the attractiveness of the national register in a continuously changing and increasingly competitive international environment. As already reported by Kathimerini, the measures include reductions in tax rates for ships entering the Greek register: 50 percent for vessels up to 5 years old and 30 percent for those 6-9 years old. The average age of Greek ships is now 18 years. The government will also pay for two envisaged training spells at sea for students of merchant shipping academies and will allow companies operating in the Mediterranean to be listed on the Athens Stock Exchange. Shipping sources commented that despite the positive nature of the measures, major issues still remain open, such as the relaxation of rules governing the composition of crews which weighs heavily on the competitiveness of the national register. Ferries The measures address certain problems in the domestic sea transport sector but seem to skip others, hindering healthy competition. On the plus side are the provisions for adjustments in the value of ferries and for a special register of passenger ferries leased on a long-term basis, which is seen as helping to boost the number of jobs and allowing several operators to meet their increased liquidity requirements. Nevertheless, passenger ferry owners still have complaints, arguing that the two-year-old law on deregulation puts limits on competition, giving ministers the right to amend operators’ route networks based on the argument of «securing public interest» and requiring that they serve additional non-profitable routes. They also oppose mandatory discounts to certain categories of travelers. Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Paschalidis has conceded that certain amendments are called for but that these do not seem to alter the law’s basic aims. Ports More than 890 million euros will be spent on the modernization of the country’s ports to meet international specifications on port and vessel security. Paschalidis said such security standards will be in place by July 1, 2004.