ECONOMY

Cruise ship industry worries

The Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE) said yesterday it fears there may be almost no cruise ships, either Greek- or foreign-flagged, starting tours from Piraeus this Olympic year, mainly due to the problems recently highlighted by the detention of three Royal Olympia Cruises ships in foreign ports as a result of court action by creditors. SETE said in a statement that the Greek cruise industry, once a world leader with more than 30 Greek-flagged vessels and more under foreign flags, has seen a dramatic decline. «Piraeus is no longer a center and its place has been taken up by Venice and Istanbul. At the same time, the number of cruises in the Carribean have risen at least 20-fold,» SETE noted. It said protection from foreign competition – which officially ended on Dec. 31, 2003 – had proved catastrophic for the Greek cruise industry. «During this time, Greek firms were neither able to tap their comparative advantages nor grow to an adequate size to withstand increasingly hard international competition,» it said, adding that the series of unfavorable events, starting with 9/11, had dealt a coup de grace to the sector. It noted that the repercussions of this decline are manifold, most notably unemployment among Greek seamen in the ship-repair sector and related branches and in the tourism industry. «There should be no complacency in view of these developments and the likelihood of similar phenomena in other branches of tourism and the economy cannot be ruled out,» SETE said. Royal Olympia Cruises’ two-star vessels, Olympia Voyager and Olympia Explorer, were detained in US ports just before Christmas and the Olympia Countess in Durban, South Africa, early this month. The ships have been booked to accommodate visitors during this summer’s Olympics. The company hopes to reschedule its debts.