Passenger ferry operators were yesterday told by the government to improve their services to customers or face the financial consequences after holidaymakers were met with a host of problems during the busiest weekend of the year for island travel. Merchant Marine Minister Michalis Kefaloyiannis met with representatives of the coastal shipowners to discuss the string of delays and cancellations that passengers have faced since Friday – traditionally when most Greeks leave their homes and jobs in the cities for vacations on the islands. However, the flow of holidaymakers was disrupted by a number of problems, the most significant of which saw some 2,500 passengers stranded in Piraeus on Friday after two ferries – the Romilda and the Rodanthi – reported engine failure and there was hardly a seat to be found on any other ship leaving the port. The local prosecutor has launched an investigation into why the two vessels did not sail. Kefaloyiannis told the ferry operators they had a duty to inform passengers immediately if their ship was likely to be delayed or canceled. He said that if they did not comply, they would face financial and administrative penalties. «Safety and proper service for passengers are paramount for us. Nobody benefits from delays and mechanical problems, especially during the current period, when almost all ferries are fully booked,» he said. Meanwhile, passengers traveling from the island of Thasos to Kavala in northern Greece were delayed for some three hours after their hydrofoil could not sail. They were later transferred to a ferry. The minister rejected claims that the fleet of ferries operating in Greece was not modern enough. He said that Greece had the lowest average age of ferries anywhere in the EU. Coastal shipowners, meanwhile, warned that if the current 35-year age limit on ferries remains in place, some 36 ships – almost half the fleet – will disappear from service in 2008. The operators want the government to free up the ferry market to provide the companies with incentives to invest in new ships.