Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis said yesterday the government will seek the broadest possible consensus between shipowners and seamen on measures that would strengthen the competitiveness of Greek-flagged shipping. He told a press briefing that he is not prepared to immediately endorse shipowners’ pressures – particularly from the powerful London-based Greek Shipping Cooperation Committee (the Committee) – for «greater flexibility» in the composition of ship crews and that no decision will be made before a dialogue is held with the two sides. «The Committee does not rule the Merchant Marine Ministry, whose strategy is determined solely by its political head, according to the interests of the sector, and by no one else,» Kefaloyiannis said. A ministry delegation is expected to hold talks with the Committee in London on the issue in coming weeks. Greek shipowners want more flexible rules on crew composition, training improvements and a specially designed policy to attract young people to the industry. They argue such measures are long overdue and would boost Greek shipping’s competitiveness, and, consequently, demand for senior crew members like captains and engineers. For their part, representatives of the Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation (PNO) are expressing fears that more flexible rules will lead to permanent job losses, and are preparing for «dynamic responses.» Kefaloyiannis blamed previous governments for the virtual demise in recent months of Greek-owned cruise companies, which have had at least 10 vessels seized by creditor international banks. «The Greek cruise industry was annihilated because no one was there to deal with its problems in a coordinated manner. Banks could have possibly helped more. The Merchant Marine and Finance ministries could have changed course all these years. This happened in other countries where the cruise industry faced similar problems,» he said. New acquisitions The Cyprus-based Louis Group said it has purchased for $71 million the cruise ship Sunbird, which has been chartered by Mytravel Group for nine months and, thereafter, by Thomson Cruises for six years. It said it had also leased Carousel, chartered by Mytravel for one year. The firm is also to manage Mytravel’s cruise ship Sundream until the end of September. Louis expects to quadruple its profits in 2004.