ECONOMY

Passenger shipping firms defend their ships’ seaworthiness

Recent statements by the new Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis over the alleged lack of credibility of checks on passenger ships’ seaworthiness have sparked the ire of passenger shippers. Kefaloyiannis said that the State, meaning officials appointed by the previous government, was «incapable» of conducting thorough inspections and suggested that the reason was political interference. Businesspeople involved in the sector told Kathimerini that they strongly reject any suggestions disputing the seaworthiness of Greek ships, especially passenger ships, which are very safe. «It is a fact that, in recent years, Greek ships have been praised, not criticized, for their safety,» passenger ferry shipowners told Kathimerini. «If the minister’s comments concern the internal operations of his ministry, then our reply is, no comment,» they added. Kefaloyiannis also blamed private banks for the dire financial straits of many passenger firms, especially cruise firms, many of whom have collapsed during the past year. Makis Strintzis of the Blue Star Ferries shipping company, a subsidiary of Attica Enterprises, has a different view. «Big investments in passenger shipping were made with the deregulation of domestic passenger shipping and the adaptation of (EU Council Regulation 3577/92) in mind. As for the banks that lent us the money, they took into account, beside each company’s creditworthiness and business plan, the coming deregulation of the market,» he told Kathimerini. Fight over regulator The first clash between the merchant marine minister and the opposition occurred this week after Kefaloyiannis made it clear he wanted to abolish the Domestic Sea Transport Regulatory Authority (RATHE) and have the Competition Commission take over its powers. In a parliamentary question, Socialist MP Christos Papoutsis, a former merchant marine minister, attacked Kefaloyiannis. «The abolition of preventive inspections and RATHE’s regulatory authority… is a gift to business interests.» Kefaloyiannis retorted that «such a regulatory authority does not exist in any other country,» adding that RATHE cost over 2 million euros a year without being effective.