Ship strike sails on to Friday

Ports will remain closed until Friday after seamen agreed yesterday to extend a six-day strike, creating further food and supply headaches across the country. The Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation (PNO) said that its strike, which has kept ships tied at ports since Thursday, will now run through to 6 a.m. Friday. The strike has paralyzed the country’s transport network, isolating hundreds of islands, many of which do not have airports. Trucks transporting fresh fruit and meat products can only queue up at ports, leaving producers to watch their products rot away. Shortages of medicine, fuel and milk were reported on several islands, while passengers needing to travel for medical reasons have been stranded. Farmers blocked roads and staged protests, demanding a solution to the problem. The government, however, seems determined not to meet their economic demands, citing budget restrictions. Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis met with Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis, but the two failed to come up with any financial answers. The sailors’ union is demanding higher pension payments, measures to combat unemployment and a discussion of collective bargaining agreements for 2006. The workers were also given the all-clear from a Piraeus court which rejected yesterday a filing from the Coastal Shipowners’ Union (EEA) calling for the strike to be deemed illegal and an abuse of power. With tension between sailors, farmers, drivers and shipowners growing, a ferry is said to have disregarded the strike and left the port of Perama, west of Athens, for Crete to bring back about 100 trucks loaded with produce. The PNO informed a prosecutor, who ordered an investigation into the incident due to claims that the ship was not manned with the right number of crew members. PASOK blamed the government for avoiding its responsibility and for allowing the issue to develop into a battle between farmers and seamen.

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