Port blockades leave hordes of travelers fuming

Thousands of Greeks and tourists remained stranded at Piraeus and other ports around the country yesterday after a crowd comprising some 400 members of the Communist Party-affiliated labor union PAME blocked the boarding ramps of several ferries during a 24-hour strike against austerity measures being pushed through by the debt-ridden government. The demonstrators, members of two marine engineers’ unions, persisted with their action yesterday even though a court had declared it illegal and abusive on Tuesday. The Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation (PNO), an umbrella organization which represents a total of 14 unions including the two staging yesterday’s blockade, did not back the protest, although it has expressed its opposition to the lifting of cabotage restrictions that prompted the strike. Tempers flared at Piraeus port early in the morning as passengers trying to board ferries were faced with rows of burly men with their arms interlocked. Most of the foreign tourists sat despondently by the ticket offices in the port area, waiting for word about their scheduled journeys. Some of the Greek passengers squared up to the protesters, angrily demanding an explanation. Private television channel Mega broadcast images of red-faced Greek passengers shouting at protesters. «Shame on you, you bullies,» one middle-aged woman cried out at protesters stationed on the ramp of one of the ferries. There were some minor scuffles but the discreet intervention of a few police officers and coast guard officials stopped tensions from peaking. Two prosecutors were sent to the scene but they did not order police to enforce the court order deeming the strike illegal. As for the coast guard officials, they said they would not attempt to break the blockade as it could fuel violence in the port. «We do not want to make things worse,» the chief of the Hellenic Coast Guard, Vice Admiral Athanassios Bousios, told Flash Radio. Bousios said the moored ferries could not depart for safety reasons anyway, as the vessels’ engineers were among those staging the blockade. PAME representatives also expressed their discontent in Athens yesterday, with about 5,000 participating in a protest rally in the city center in the afternoon. The march caused congestion but there was no violence. The Hellenic Association of Tourism and Travel Agents yesterday condemned the action as the country’s crucial tourism industry has already been hit by previous strikes.