The Merchant Marine Ministry is studying the lifting of restrictions in economy-class fares on ferry routes served by at least three competing companies, as required for the harmonization of the current institutional framework with that of the EU, Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis said. He explained that the ceiling on fares on routes without sufficient competition will be maintained. Another step, which the state as well as the coastal shipowners must take as soon as possible, is the adoption of the «Stockholm agreement,» which Kefaloyiannis said «can bring EU capital to coastal shipping.» Coastal shipping circles suggest that if the «Stockholm agreement» is applied to certain ships – as it is not applicable to all conventional vessels for reasons that include high costs – it could contribute to overcoming the problem of the withdrawal age, which now stands at 35 years and is due to fall to 30 years in 2008. On the issue of fare discounts, Kefaloyiannis said they will still apply to socially vulnerable groups and the inhabitants of small islands, with the difference covered by the state budget. He added that the ministry intends to have the National Shipping Policy Council operate actively. After the council concludes its study of costal shipping issues it will turn to the cruise industry and its growth prospects, the issue of the upgrade of seamen’s education and that of port infrastructure.