EU warning on captains

Greek-flagged ships will no longer be obliged to have a Greek captain, but one from any of the 27 European Union member states, according to a warning letter sent by the European Commission to the Merchant Marine Ministry regarding the manning of ships in the country’s register. The letter requires the harmonization of Greek law with EU legislation on the freedom of movement of workers. This, however, considerably upsets the years-long policy of Greek governments in favor of Greek officers at the helm of oceangoing as well as passenger vessels. The ministry received the letter just a few days after a ruling of the European Court against France, which had a law requiring both the captain and first mate of ships in the country’s register to be French citizens. Greek law provides for a certain number of Greek officers on merchant ships, depending on the size of each, while the captain must be Greek. On passenger ships the requirement extends also to the rest of the crew, who must additionally be fluent in Greek. Speaking to Kathimerini, shipping sources described the development as «interesting,» noting that «Greek legislation providing for the obligatory manning of ships with a Greek captain and a specific number of Greek officers contravenes EU law.» The ministry is reportedly preparing its response, according to which the captain and his first mate are not mere employees, but that they also – under Greek law – perform public duties. The problem is greater in coastal shipping, which employs even more Greek seamen. «Ministry officials may think the letter does not concern coastal shipping, but the Court’s ruling and the Commission make no distinction between passenger and merchant shipping,» the same sources added.