Shippers’ demands

Passenger shippers directed a series of demands toward the government at their annual general meeting yesterday, the most important having to do with crew composition and ships’ idle time. The shippers would like Greece to adopt the practice, in other European Union countries, of requiring only the ship’s captain to be a national of the country the ship is registered in. Greek regulations require at least half the crew, including all officers, to be Greek. Passenger shippers also want to reduce the number of required crew to the minimum number that would ensure their ships’ security and demand that each company choose the size of the crew catering to the needs of the passengers according to seasonal demand. Another of the shippers’ major preoccupations is the upgrading of port installations throughout the country. Several shippers have renewed their fleet by acquiring brand-new fast ferries. Several of Greece’s ports are not equipped with the facilities required for such ships. One point of conflict with previous Merchant Marine Minister Christos Papoutsis, who was replaced last October by Giorgos Anomeritis, was a requirement that ships be active for at least 10 months during the year. Passenger shippers argue that since a very small part of their business is done during the winter – for example, only 2 percent of the companies’ turnover is realized in February, versus 23 percent in August – they demand more idle time for their ships, saying they want to keep only part of their fleet active during the winter. This demand is unlikely to be accepted, given the ministry’s concern that unprofitable routes to smaller islands be serviced throughout the year. Concerning these routes, shippers demand that they pay no port fees. Other demands voiced by shippers include the abolition of a clause in a recent law that prohibits them from using the crew for repair work while the ship is in dry dock, higher prices for beverages sold on board and an end to their obligation to carry letters and parcels free of charge. Shippers also discussed ways and methods to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the ships as stowaways, especially on the routes to Italy. The Merchant Marine Ministry appears willing to include passenger shipping firms in the provisions of the development law, which will provide a number of subsidies and tax breaks to private firms. Shippers say they need the help to offset their poor performance on the Athens Stock Exchange, and to cover rising fuel and spare parts costs.