Passengers on the main coastal shipping routes from Piraeus will be able to choose from a variety of economy-class fares as of next month, as the Merchant Marine Ministry is liberalizing the market in accordance with EU regulations. «We believe that liberalization will lead to a reduction of fares and an improvement in the services offered to the public, which is our goal,» Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis stated yesterday. Fares will open up before Easter on routes served by at least two companies or those with at least 150,000 passengers per route per year, the minister said. «We are proceeding to liberalization from Piraeus, too, after the positive results recorded from the operation of companies departing from ports with liberalized services,» he announced. He stressed that there will be no liberalization for routes that are subsidized by the state and serve small islands. He added that any companies undertaking public service routes for six years will have to «modernize their fleets with newer vessels within those six years.» Kefaloyiannis further announced that by the end of April, the ministry will invite interest for covering core routes, such as Piraeus-Crete, from EU companies, as well as for three to five years. This confirms an earlier report that EU companies can enter the Aegean market provided they heed the country’s laws and the routes are served for a 10-month period. Should more than two foreign companies bid for the monopolistic use of a route, the government will choose the one that offers newer vessels, greater experience and better services to passengers, the minister said. The European Commission is apparently happy with the possibility of subsidizing modernization work in the sector of coastal shipping, as was discussed by the ministry’s general secretary Yiannis Ioannos during his recent trip to Brussels.