A British company has applied for a permit to operate ferries in Greece’s popular Aegean island routes, the first to do so after the expiry of a 12-year exemption to EU rules on deregulation, a source said yesterday. Under the maritime transport – cabotage – rules in place in most EU states since 1992, shipowners with vessels registered in an EU member state are allowed to provide maritime transport services within any other member state. Greece had been granted a 12-year exception because the size of its network – spanning about 240 ports – meant it would need more time to ease into deregulation. «A British firm has submitted three applications, one application for each ship they intend to operate,» a source in the Merchant Marine Ministry told Reuters. The source added that the firm, identified as Ocean Star, intended to operate two small ferries in the Saronic Gulf route and one large car and passenger ship in the Cyclades route, that includes the hugely popular destinations of Myconos and Santorini. The source said that according to the application documents the three ships were still being built. A local representative of the company confirmed the bid, but declined to give any further details. «It is unlikely that we will see foreign companies rushing in. The Greek market is generally not considered profitable because economy-class tickets are cheaper than in other countries,» said a maritime industry source who refused to be named. Greece has long been at loggerheads with Brussels over a 2001 law deregulating passenger shipping. In a letter sent to Greece’s Foreign Ministry in February, Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio said Greece needed to change parts of the law to avoid being hit with legal action for breaking EU rules and putting up barriers to liberalization. The provisions in question include a requirement for crews to speak Greek and a clause providing for a vessel age limit of 30 years, down from 35 previously, to come into effect in 2009.