The government is keeping a close eye on the issue of coastal shipping fares and is holding talks with ferry operators, Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said after briefing the Cabinet yesterday. The minister said that in some cases fuel costs account for up to 70 percent of fares, but he expressed the hope that operators will show restraint when introducing new hikes. At the same time, however, coastal shipping companies seem to be gravely concerned about the steep rise in the cost of fuels and are pressing Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis to abolish levies in favor of third parties which represent nearly 25 percent of the total value of fares. «The abolition of levies in favor of third parties will help normalize the situation and any further increases in fares would definitely be avoided,» officials of the Association of Greek Coastal Shipping Companies told Kathimerini. Although operators have already pushed through steep fare hikes this season, Voulgarakis said the situation has considerably improved. The government is disbursing a further -14 million in subsidies for unprofitable island routes and -20 million more in total to the industry, he said. Container terminals Voulgarakis also informed the Cabinet that tender procedures for the container terminals at Greece’s biggest ports, Piraeus and Thessaloniki, were going according to plan. «We are within time schedules and the concession contracts will most likely have been signed by the end of the year with the winning bidders,» he said. Voulgarakis said the arrangement would upgrade Greece’s geostrategic position and give it the potential to become a gateway to Europe which had hitherto gone untapped. Meanwhile, the dockers’ ongoing overtime ban, now in its sixth month, in protest against the government’s plans for container operations at the two ports, seems to be driving major international shipping operators away. According to sources, one such company, ZIM, has stopped transporting cargoes from Israel and the US but is keeping the Far East line open. Maersk Line has stopped the line from Port Said and has rerouted dry cargoes to the ports of Iraklion, Crete, and Lavrion, Attica.