Gov’t slammed on deregulation of ferry routes

The Merchant Marine Ministry yesterday came under fire from both Greek coastal shipowners and the European Court of Justice on different grounds over Regulation 3577/92, which deals with the liberalization of the sea transport industry in the European Union. Shipowners charged that certain actions by the ministry show regression back to the regime of a fully protected industry, rather than harmonization with the regulation. The complaint was aired by President of the Coastal Shipowners Association (EEA) Stelios Sarris in the presence of the ministry’s general secretary, Yiannis Tzoannos, and prominent industry leaders. The ferry operators back their charge with examples, such as the setting of ship sailing times, determination of routes and a requirement for letters of guarantee. «They require us to deposit letters of guarantee for the routes we wish to operate. This is unacceptable and we shall certainly not apply it,» said Sarris. «We are asking that the current Law 2932/01 be harmonized with the Community regulation so that companies are able to plan and further upgrade the level of services we offer to the public,» he added. The shipowners also believe the government must subsidize new investment in order to enable them speed up orders of new vessels, with a view to covering the vacuum projected with a planned mandatory withdrawal over the next 10 years of about 40 old ships. European Court of Justice Separately, the European court yesterday found Greece in violation of Community legislation regarding the free provision of sea transport services in member states’ internal markets. Specifically, the court found that Greece’s decision to include ports in the Peloponnese on the list of island areas and apply, as a host country, its own national regulations regarding crew composition to Community cruise ships above 650 in gross tonnage that sail to its islands, violates Regulation 3577/92. The regulation, in force since January 1, 1993, determines that ships registered in an EU member country may provide services in any other member, provided they meet necessary standards. A temporary exemption is made for certain services, including sea transport between ports on the Mediterranean islands. For reasons of economic and social cohesion, the exemption was extended to Greece until January 1, 2004 for passenger ferries servicing regular routes and other vessels under 650 in gross tonnage. The court simply said that the Corinth Canal does not make the Peloponnese an island and that all matters regarding the composition of crews on cruise ships are the responsibility of the country in which the ship is registered rather than where it operates.