Yacht operators warn of dire prospects as debts mount

Professional tourist yacht operators are witnessing a second bad year for business after 2003, with revenues declining further by up to 60 percent, the sector’s association (EPEST) said in a press release yesterday. According to EPEST, in the late 1990s the sector boasted 5,000 vessels but only 3,200 remain today, most of which have been permanently moored in the last few years, while the situation continues to worsen. This inactivity, the association claims, has been disastrous as many vessel owners sought to upgrade or modernize their yachts through borrowing, looking forward to greater demand during the Athens Olympics. The mostly small- to medium-scale businessmen are now faced with huge financial burdens, both because of debt and the high cost of maintaining and keeping such vessels. This dire situation, according to EPEST, is not simply the result of unforeseen events such as the September 11 terrorist attacks. It insists that the crisis has been in the making for several years, and is mainly due to the lack of interest by the State and the absence of a favorable policy. EPEST also notes that Greece’s current main competitors, Turkey and Croatia, have followed steady development policies which have enabled them to capture a sizable chunk of business from Greek yachts. EPEST is also worried that the deregulation of the coastal shipping industry and the introduction of a more favorable operating and competitive environment for tourist yachts in other European Union states will induce Greek yacht owners to sail under foreign flags, such as those of Cyprus and Malta.