Full liberalization across all aspects of coastal shipping is the only way to solve the problems of the sector, argues Alexandros Panagopoulos, vice president and CEO of Attica Group, in an interview with Kathimerini. «Recent attacks on the country’s coastal shipping industry have been exaggerated, disproportionate and unfair, when similar or equal delays are seen in the land and air network, too,» he argued, adding that «any merchant marine minister is not a magician to solve all problems of coastal shipping. Only free competition among sector companies will solve the problems.» The chief of the biggest coastal shipping group in Greece also noted that the rise in oil prices over the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2005 reached 50 percent, bringing an increase in company costs and a rise in fares. «The European Union directive for coastal shipping liberalization has only been applied on fares,» said Panagopoulos, asking for «liberalization to expand to the other domains of coastal shipping.» He said the government should harmonize fully the coastal shipping legal framework with the European legislation from 1992, so that complete liberalization is applied to the benefit of passengers and for the creation of a favorable climate for the attraction of the huge funds required for the renewal of the Greek fleet. He believes that the ministry’s leadership should give priority to port infrastructure and allocate the necessary funds, as on most islands conditions only allow for vessels dating from previous decades. He specifically refers to the snub posts on many docks for ships from the 1950s. He went on to reveal that over 1.5 billion euros are required today for the renewal of the Greek coastal shipping fleet, and that cannot be done straight away. «You must know that there is a six-month waiting list just for the ships’ emergency-light batteries,» he said, adding that it takes between 18 and 24 months to install the main engines of a newly built coastal vessel. Stronger than ever Discussing his company, Panagopoulos said «after the restructuring of its fleet with the recent sales and acquisitions, it now is stronger than it has ever been, reaching an historic low in borrowing, enjoying full health and being always on top of its industry.» The strengthening of Attica Group’s cash reserves has allowed the listed group to return 0.60 euros per share to its shareholders. Earlier this month, the subsidiary Blue Star Ferries acquired the whole of DANE’s assets in an auction in Rhodes, where DANE is based. Assets include the Diagoras, Patmos and Rodos ferries as well as several properties in the city of Rhodes. The group paid a total of 19.9 million euros (15.4 million euros for the assets and 4.5 million euros for a debt to the Seamen’s Pension Fund). This acquisition forms part of Attica Group’s further strengthening in coastal shipping.