Strike leaves ferries, cruise ships stranded;hotel group charges draft bill is from 1970s

Ferries and cruise ships were stranded at Greek ports yesterday as seamen staged a 24-hour strike against a government decision to lift restrictions on vessels docking with foreign crews, port officials said. Dozens of passenger ships were stranded at Greece’s largest port of Piraeus while traffic was halted between Athens and the islands due to the strike which started early yesterday. Only three out of five cruise ships expected at Piraeus arrived yesterday. The Aegean Pearl, Aqua Marina and Gemini cruise ships arrived, transporting a total of some 2,500 passengers but were not able to depart later in the day as scheduled. They will leave today. The Greek government said in April it would allow non-EU-flagged cruise ships with non-Greek crew to moor at its ports and travel between Greek islands to boost the number of ships arriving in Greece and help the vital tourism industry. But unions say the move will lead to job cuts. Passengers disembarked normally yesterday, but dozens of protesting seamen and members of the Communist Party-affiliated PAME union blocked the gates of the port, preventing other tourists from boarding the cruise ships. In a rare sign of opposition to the industrial action, dozens of shop owners, tourist guides and other tourism workers chanted «Hands off tourism» and handed roses to the passengers. The ruling Socialists have so far stood fast in the face of public pressure and stuck to the austerity measures. However, tourism industry officials have criticized the government for preparing a draft bill allowing non-EU-flagged ships to visit Piraeus which is «anachronistic» and «belonging to the 1970s.» The Hellenic Chamber of Hotels, which has about 10,000 members, said that no cruise ship will accept the terms set out in the draft bill, such as staying in the country for 72 hours, after having docked at Piraeus. «Instead of welcoming visitors we are turning them away. Instead of making their life easier, we are keeping them at bay,» the group said in a statement yesterday. It called on Prime Minister George Papandreou to implement measures to drive growth and urged unionists to respect the sector before it is too late and tourists permanently turn their back on Greece.