ECONOMY

Cruise shipping is struggling and the State is of no help

Ship cruises used to be – and could still be – one of the sectors of the Greek economy attracting the most foreign exchange. Until last year, more than 10 Greek cruise ships were plying the seas on so-called «circular cruises,» with the port of Piraeus as the port of origin and destination. Thus, cruises left Piraeus for three-day (Myconos-Rhodes-Patmos-Kusadasi), four-day (Myconos-Iraklion-Santorini-Patmos-Kusadasi) or seven day (Istanbul-Myconos-Patmos-Kusadasi-Rhodes-Iraklion-Santorini) cruises. These routes, followed by Greek cruise ships and Greek-owned foreign companies, such as Festival Cruises, were internationally renowned for allowing tourists to see the Aegean Sea in all its beauty and visit two countries, Greece and Turkey. Indeed, when things were calm in the Middle East, there were seven-day cruises to Alexandria, in Egypt; Azdot, in Israel; Istanbul, Patmos and Myconos, providing the opportunity to visit four countries. These routes were almost monopolized by Greek companies. But something has suddenly happened. Banks have gone after Greek-owned cruise shippers and have almost put them out of commission, thus helping to open the cruise market to foreign multinational shippers and to the huge cruise ships that resemble floating towns, offer mass cruises and the ambience of a super-luxurious resort. Of course, competition is rough and there are rules to follow, mainly set up by the European Union. However, the end result is that this year, an Olympic year, a vital element of Greek tourism is missing. Instead of a great influx of visitors, we expect a 20 percent drop and the absence of Greek cruise ships is palpable. Patmos, Rhodes and Santorini are already feeling the adverse effects of developments that have put Festival Cruises out of commission, and nearly sidelined Royal Olympia Cruises, which lost three of its ships. Thus, only four Greek cruise ships are crossing the Aegean this year, down from a dozen in 2003. One would expect the State at least to take a look at the problem and help the sector, while not favoring individuals. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort is happening, even now that four ministries (Economy, Merchant Marine, Tourism and Aegean) are involved.