The government is moving ahead with the adoption of measures to improve services in the merchant marine sector. In line with the New Democracy government’s promise, the Merchant Marine Ministry is about to take immediate steps to give the Greek shipping industry the clout it needs. The measures will permit Greek merchant marine officers to acquire the skills they need to survive in a very competitive field. They will also allow Greek business owners to expect services that will gradually improve the competitiveness of the Greek flag. A major step is to be the use of shipping courts, now available only abroad. Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis told Kathimerini in an interview that the Hellenic Register of Shipping is to be upgraded and an attempt made to establish Protection and Indemnity Clubs in Greece. According to sources, following the measures Kefaloyiannis announces – which are mainly related to studies offered to students planning to work in the sector – the ministry will also take steps to improve the competitiveness of Greek ships. The government has drafted a plan to improve services offered by the merchant marine, along with the possibility of providing such services in Piraeus. The Greece we envisage needs a strong shipping sector and the new challenges include the need for a serious and realistic approach to shipping policy. Improving services is our priority, and as far as Piraeus is concerned I can tell you that we have already taken some initial steps. In cooperation with the Justice Ministry we are establishing a comprehensive legislative framework on shipping arbitration and are to establish the institution of shipping courts. We are also strengthening the role of Greek insurance companies in covering shipping risks. We have also decided to encourage Greek shipowners to set up protection and indemnity clubs. Based on what I have just said, I can tell you that the goal of our policy is to improve the business environment by making Piraeus and its surroundings a great shipping center. We want to ensure a climate of cooperation and stability by means of cooperation between the State, shipping workers and shipowners, and to give the National Council for Shipping Policy a strategic role to play. You also want to improve the level of studies for the merchant marine sector; does this include private academies? From the outset we have been in favor of improving seamen’s training by means of continual improvements in existing training programs at all merchant marine academies. This is a project that we are planning and to a great extent have completed in close, direct cooperation with the ministry’s secretary general, Professor Yiannis Tzoannos. It is also our goal to promote shipping education at national and international level, to contract agreements in this sector and to attract more young people to the academies and the sector generally. According to law 3153/2003, merchant marine crews can also receive training at private schools. Amendments have been submitted for approval in order to implement all these legislative provisions. In particular, these are: * A draft presidential decree on the syllabus and monitoring of private shipping schools by the Merchant Marine Ministry, including the obligations of the institutions being monitored and the administrative sanctions to be imposed when regulations are violated. * A draft presidential decree on the qualifications required for seamen’s licenses and their rights on board ship. * A draft joint ministerial decree by the Merchant Marine and National Education ministries on the conditions, terms and licensing of private merchant marine academies. * A draft joint ministerial degree by the Merchant Marine and National Education ministries on the necessary infrastructure, equipment, syllabus, teachers’ qualifications at private merchant marine academies, as well as the institutions and procedures for evaluating them. * A draft joint ministerial decree by the same ministries on ensuring the quality of services provided by these private institutions. The Merchant Marine Ministry is drafting another decree providing for the certification necessary to set up and operate a private merchant marine academy. We know that the Greek shipping sector chiefly uses foreign shipping registers. Are there any plans to upgrade the Hellenic Registry of Shipping (HRS)? Of course there are, and this is being done. As you know, the HRS is recognized by European Union law and fulfills the conditions and criteria provided for in Directive 94/57, apart from the quantitative criteria A2 and A3 (the minimum total capacity for ships in the class and the number of inspectors). Nevertheless, although recognized, it is so far only authorized by Greece to certify ships according to the International Maritime Organization’s international conventions. A presidential decree provides for the incorporation of EU Directive EC2001/105 and the general extension of the shipping registers’ powers to inspect and give government approval to domestic cargo ships of over 500 GRT and conventional passenger ships of over 1,500 GRT. This is expected to gradually satisfy demands to improve the HRS’s quantitative criteria.