ECONOMY

Passenger shippers complain

The Union of Coastal Shipowners (EEA) has presented the government with a series of demands that must be solved before they can invest in new passenger ships. EEA objects to a series of market-regulating measures imposed by the Merchant Marine Ministry and has complained to the European Commission that these measures hinder fair competition. The measures they object to are the following: – The imposition of mandatory shipping routes that must be maintained year-round. – A limit on the age of seaworthy ships, which is 35 years at present and will be reduced to 30 years by 2008. – The ministry’s interference in deciding which shipper will be involved in passenger routes. – Mandatory scheduling of routes to far-off islands which, the shippers say, are loss-makers. – The fee required to submit a declaration of scheduled routes. – The requirement of letters of guarantee. – Mandatory operation of a passenger ship for a minimum of 10 months per year, irrespective of demand. – The ministry’s right to impose limits, or discounts, on economy-class fares. – The imposition of discounts for certain groups, for reasons of welfare. – The requirement to maintain a minimum number of employees which the shipowners find excessive and far beyond safety requirements. – The imposition of a 3 percent surcharge on fares. – The ministry’s right to require extra scheduling for passenger routes, especially during peak periods. – The double imposition of passenger insurance. – Limitations of berths at ports. – The scheduling of cargo ferries on routes where passenger ferries are also active. – The imposition of fees in favor of third parties on fares. «We would like to believe that the ministry will do what is necessary to settle these pending matters so that passenger shipping can be upgraded, clients offered upgraded services and companies active in the sector improve their results,» an EEA spokesman told Kathimerini. Passenger shippers say that if these contentious matters are not settled to their satisfaction, it will be very difficult for them to invest in upgrading their fleets to face the extra competition that deregulation of the market is expected to bring. Long-haul shipping thrives While passenger shippers are waiting to invest, oceangoing ones have invested $7 billion in upgrading their fleets, Nikos Efthymiou, head of the Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS) said yesterday. Greek shipowners currently own 4,000 ships with a total draught of 180 million tons, about 20 percent of the world’s total, Efthymiou said in a speech commemorating the 90th anniversary of the UGS’s foundation. Last year alone, Greek oceangoing shipping contributed $17 billion to the Greek economy. «Greek shipping gives to the country and takes nothing away from it,» said Efthymiou. More than a thousand shipping companies are active in Greece, employing a total of 11,000 on land and more than 120,000 at sea. This sector, Efthymiou said, contributes as much to the economy as the tourism sector, with its half a million employees.