Small impact on Greek cruises from sinking, according to industry

The sinking of a Greek cruise ship off the island of Santorini last week will do little damage to the Greek cruise and passenger ferry sector ahead of the busy summer tourist season, industry officials said yesterday. The 22,412-ton Sea Diamond, run by Louis Cruise Lines, hit a reef last Thursday close to the scenic Aegean island, forcing more than 1,500 mainly foreign passengers and crew to evacuate. Two French tourists, a father and daughter, are still missing. The ship sank early on Friday, surprising the government, which had declared the evacuation operation a major success. «There may be a brief freeze of new reservations but I do not foresee cancellations,» said Yiannis Evangelou, head of the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourism Agencies. Greece expects to receive over 15 million tourists this year following two consecutive years of solid growth after the 2004 Athens Olympics. Tourism accounts for about 18 percent of the country’s GDP and roughly one in five jobs. Industry experts said the sinking will have only a small impact on the industry, especially since the operator, Louis Cruise Lines, attracts the bulk of its clients from Europe rather than the United States, a major market for Mediterranean cruises. «Since this seems to have been an accident and not an act of terrorism or mechanical failure, the impact will be limited,» a cruise industry specialist based in Greece told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Greece’s union of coastal shipping enterprises, which annually ferries more than 13 million people to the Aegean isles, also did not expect to take any hit. Many islands lack airports and are only accessible by passenger ferries. «It is very unpleasant for the industry as a whole but I do not expect any real damage for us,» Michalis Sakellis, the union’s president, told Reuters. Sakellis, who is also CEO of the Blue Star Ferries passenger ferry company, said he had not seen any impact on bookings and sales so far. «Any such accident is bad for the tourism sector as a whole but I think there will only be small damage, if any,» he said. In September 2000, 82 people drowned when the passenger ferry Express Samina hit rocks and sank off the island of Paros. The incident did not affect the coastal shipping industry the next season. Ship fully insured Separately, the Cypriot owners of the Sea Diamond said in Nicosia the vessel was fully insured and would have no immediate impact on company profits as the company’s shares fell sharply. Shares in Cyprus-based Louis Plc were down 13.7 percent in early yesterday trade on the Cyprus bourse, the first day of trading since the disaster, which coincided with a long Easter break. Louis acquired the Sea Diamond in 2006 for $35 million (-26 million). The group has another 12 vessels operating mainly in the Mediterranean. Expressing regret at the incident, Louis said: «The vessel was fully insured and subsequently it is not expected its loss will have any immediate impact on company results.» The company did not specify how much the Sea Diamond was insured for and its spokesman was not immediately available for comment. Louis said the vessel was also insured in the event of pollution, now a worry for Greek authorities. The Sea Diamond’s itinerary had been taken over by other vessels in the Louis fleet from April 9, the company said. (Reuters)

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