The Greek commercial fleet will soon expand by up to 100 ships, according to the Merchant Marine Ministry, as a result of measures announced a few months ago by Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis to bolster the competitiveness of the national register. Sources suggest that the minister’s office is already flooded with more than 100 statements of intention for raising the Greek flag from Greek shipowners. Furthermore, the same sources reveal that in the last few days, 18 vessels have entered the Greek register, which is far higher than at other periods. «By opening up the market, we are attracting ships and creating new jobs,» Kefaloyiannis said yesterday. The shipping community has responded enthusiastically to the government measures for strengthening the Greek flag. Representatives of the Greek Union of Shipowners (EEE) and of the Greek Shipping Cooperation Committee – London have stressed that «the measures for competitiveness are on the right course and the results will appear soon.» The ministry has made a significant step forward by overcoming certain inhibitions of the past and adopting two measures that, so far, seem to have made the difference: First, it decided to proceed with a more flexible approach to the composition of crews for oceangoing ships. It ruled that the limit on the number of Greeks should be six, including all officers and crew. Second, the social insurance contributions of Greek seamen serving as low-level crew is to be subsidized. However, if a shipping company decides to have more than six Greek seamen and they are low-level crew, then the state, as an incentive, will subsidize the contributions not only of seamen but also of shipowners. Kefaloyiannis stated that «the ministry’s aim is to attract 500 ships to the national register, which is why these measures have been taken, for the Greek flag to become stronger and more attractive.» He also noted that within 2007 a number of reforms that are already under way will be completed, such as the measures for coastal shipping and for cruising as well as initiatives for the strengthening of the competitiveness of the national register.