A series of measures which include allowing small and medium-sized ship-repair companies greater leeway in paying off their social security obligations and access to benefits earmarked for industrial parks should breathe life back into the local ship-repair industry in Piraeus and Perama, the government said yesterday. Unveiling the proposals, Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said the objective is «to reinforce and modernize the local ship-repair industry» concentrated around Piraeus, Perama and Elefsina in the wake of the privatization of the major shipyards. One of the measures designed to provide a clearer picture of the sector is the setting-up of a register in September, classifying the 550 companies into different categories. The minister said ship-repair companies would also find it easier to pay off their arrears to the State and IKA, the social security fund, under new arrangements. The 220 companies that owe a total of 117 million euros to IKA will start with a clean slate on condition that they pay their overdue contributions monthly. Companies indebted to the State would be allowed to pay off their obligations in 48 installments while the 1.5-percent surcharge would be cut to 1 percent. Christodoulakis said the new repayment schemes do not constitute a write-off program for the companies. He said an industrial park would be set up in Schistos outside Piraeus for ship-repair companies currently located around the port. The State has already received 134 applications for the 90 places available. Development of the ship-repair zone in Piraeus and Perama will also be facilitated with the formation of a company under the Piraeus Port Authority in the summer. The new package of measures includes vocational training programs for the 900 unemployed in the ship-repair industry and incentives to companies to hire an estimated 500 workers. The first scheme is expected to cost the State 4.2 million euros and the second 6.16 million euros. Companies that create new jobs will also be granted incentives. Referring to long-delayed plans to float the Piraeus Port Authority, Christodoulakis said the State is currently awaiting a report from the privatization advisers. He said the government is adamant on a listing as this would bring in private sector funds for the authority.