Ports up for facelift

At a time when ferry companies are threatening to slash passenger routes to the islands due to financial problems, the government announced yesterday a 3-billion-euro makeover of Greece’s ports in a move aimed at strengthening the country’s links with its scattered archipelago. The Merchant Marine Ministry said yesterday that Greece has secured a loan worth 3 billion euros from the European Investment Bank (EIB) even though the regeneration project actually demands double that amount. «We are optimistic that the use of this money will help not only the development of the ports but also to finance ships on unprofitable routes,» said Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis yesterday. The minister is expected to sign the loan agreement in Luxembourg today. The ministry described the loan conditions as «favorable.» The life of the loan runs for 25 years and includes a seven-year grace period. The amount is not guaranteed by the Greek state, which means that it will not be tacked on to the country’s mounting public debt. Although shipping remains one of Greece’s key industries, a number of problems have been plaguing the sector, which in turn weigh on economic growth and the vital tourism industry. Shipowners said recently that if Greece does not proceed with changes to its laws on the permissible age of vessels, then they may have to cut their fleets by as much as half. One of the key problems, shipowners added, is the failure to deregulate the shipping industry in Greece despite European Union guidelines dictating the move. The 3-billion-euro program will take into account proposals submitted by any of the country’s ports, the minister added. Greece’s 12 largest ports, including Piraeus, Thessaloniki and Volos, have already submitted ideas. Meanwhile, on the environmental front, the EU said yesterday that it will adopt tough new measures against ships that pollute EU waters, breaking a longstanding deadlock with three countries, including Greece. Under the new rules, EU members should fine shipowners up to 1.5 million euros when their ships are responsible for significant pollution. Figures show that about 150,000 tons of oil wind up in the Mediterranean Sea each year as a result of ship discharge.

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