The Merchant Marine Ministry is studying a plan to make the crew composition specifications on Greek-flagged ships more flexible, depending on type and capacity, Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis said yesterday. The measure is designed as an incentive that would improve the competitiveness of the Greek register and attract new vessels to it. Another incentive being studied is the subsidization of social insurance contributions of Greek seamen on Greek-flagged ships in order to reduce overall labor costs. Shipping circles said implementation of the announcements would create realistic conditions for making the national register more competitive and boosting employment for Greek seamen. A study by the University of Piraeus conducted by the Shipping Chamber of Greece estimated that the deficit in competitiveness of Greek-flagged ships under the present crew composition specifications varies between 244,000 and 366,000 euros, depending on size. The number of vessels on the Greek register has been falling in recent years. According to Lloyd’s Register, the number of vessels over 100 gross tons (gt) has fallen from 1,529 in 2000 to 1,491 in 2005. Kefaloyiannis said the subsidization of social insurance contributions of Greek seamen by employers will be done on the basis of the experience derived from cruise ships. He said the measure will concern only lower-grade crew members but ministry circles said it will ultimately apply to all levels, as the agreement regarding cruise ship crews bears no reference to different crew categories. Crew composition specifications have long been a stumbling block to efforts to attract more ships to the register, due to the high labor costs of Greek seamen. The amendment of the specifications will enable shipping companies to set the minimum number of seamen needed themselves, again, depending on type and capacity. «Of course, in no case will relaxation of rules regarding crew composition mean ships without Greek seamen,» said Kefaloyiannis. It is argued that the fall in employment that will result from the application of the measure will be more than offset by the addition of new vessels to the register. Ports The Merchant Marine Ministry will cede a number of port services to private operators, as part of a drive to boost efficiency and attract foreign investment, but will retain the ownership of the facilities, Kefaloyiannis said. These will include the management of loading and unloading services for 30 years. «We are optimistic that the tenders will take place soon, according to European standards and the strongest international players will come,» he said. Separately, the Federation of Port Employees of Greece condemned the move, saying the government is «attempting a big crime against the ports.» Port workers are launching strikes, from 1 to 5 p.m. today and throughout the weekend.