The government has set deadlines in May for bids for the concession of the container stations at the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki, implementing its intended policy to privatize some of the main ports’ services. «This issue will no longer be on the Merchant Marine Ministry’s agenda in 2009,» Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis promised yesterday, stressing the significant interest in the Greek ports that the government has had from all major players in the sector’s global markets. There will be no further extensions for new bids in the tenders – for the Piraeus port, which must be submitted by May 9, and the Thessaloniki port, on May 15. Bids will then be evaluated and the winner will be announced in early July. «There has never been any similar effort in Greece; this is a top reform decision by the government,» commented Voulgarakis. Asked about interest by major companies, he said all have received the details about the tenders and are continuing to ask questions about them, so «I would be greatly surprised if they do not submit offers,» the merchant marine minister said. Separately, Voulgarakis yesterday sent an open warning to coastal shipping companies against any possible hike in their fares ahead of the Easter holiday and the summer season, suggesting that the ministry will closely monitor the liberalized fare markets for possible distortion of competition. «I caution companies to keep their fare rises measured on liberalized routes,» he said, adding that if there is any abuse, the ministry will interfere as the law provides, «but we definitely do not want to resort to that.» Responding to a question about possible monopolies on certain routes following the recent changes in the ownership of some coastal shipping firms, Voulgarakis stated that he had originally worried about this and took the matter up with the Competition Commission. But later he explained that the situation developed in such a way that there will probably not emerge any such issue. He did stress though that developments are being followed and examined carefully.