ECONOMY

Ferry fares deregulated

The government yesterday announced that it would lift controls on ferry prices on routes from six ports to the Aegean Islands and Corfu. In response, ferry operators, who still feel that market liberalization has not gone far enough, immediately announced discount packages. A circular signed by Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis and Aegean and Island Policy Minister Aristotelis Pavlidis lifts restrictions on ferry fees on the following routes: – From Piraeus to Agios Nikolaos (Crete), Agistri, Aegina, Iraklion, Santorini, Icaria, Ios, Kalymnos, Kos, Milos, Myconos, Lesvos, Naxos, Paros, Poros, Rethymnon, Rhodes, Salamina, Samos, Siteia, Sifnos, Spetses, Syros, Tinos, Hydra, Hania and Chios. – From Rafina to Andros, Tinos and Myconos. – From Lavrion to all destinations except Kea. – From Kymi, on the island of Evia, to all destinations except Skyros. – From Elefsina to all destinations (vehicle tariffs only). – From Patras to Corfu. The liberalization is conditional on at least two companies being active on each route and a minimum annual traffic of 300,000 passengers. Subsidized routes remain regulated. The move follows recent protests by ferry operators who have criticized the government for dragging its feet on liberalization and have threatened to moor their ships if the government does not fully implement EU law. Ferry operators responded yesterday by saying that, while a positive development, the circular does not go far enough in adopting the EU Directive 3577/1992. They said they would also like to see the abolition of charges in favor of third parties, which account for over 20 percent of fares, and the obligation for ferries to operate 10 months each year. The truce between the ministry and the ferry operators may not last long: at their first meeting, on May 24, the ferry operators’ association (EEA) will discuss whether the government is sincerely aiming for full market deregulation. «If words are not translated into action, then no one excludes a decision to moor the ships again,» a well-known shipowner, who requested anonymity, told Kathimerini. Ferries are a vital lifeline for the country’s 600,000 islanders and are a critical transport means for the millions of tourists who flock to the white-washed villages and sunny Greek islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas each year. Earlier this month, ferry operators had announced they would hike prices unilaterally without waiting for government approval. Ferry operator Hellenic Seaways has already announced discount packages, with discounts ranging from 10 percent for frequent passengers to 50 percent for retired seamen, large families and people with special needs. «Liberalization will bring lower fares,» said Hellenic Seaways Chairman Gerasimos Strintzis. (Kathimerini/Reuters)