Greece and Cyprus yesterday helped block an EU proposal to make punishment for maritime pollution harsher, with Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis labeling the initiative «economic suicide.» If passed, the law would have resulted in shipping companies and captains facing up to 10-year jail sentences and 1.5-million-euro fines for causing sea pollution, such as oil slicks, through gross negligence or a deliberate act. «Our country has the strictest laws in the EU on marine pollution but that does not justify the tendency by some member states to lead shipping into decay and economic suicide,» Kefaloyiannis said. Greece, Cyprus and Malta, which vetoed the move, host large merchant fleets and feel it would damage their ability to compete with non-EU shipping. They argued that the proposed rules went beyond international standards and propose that the EU incorporates a maximum fine for companies involved in spills. «Some people want to engage in popular politics for their own domestic reasons at our expense,» Kefaloyiannis said.