OPINION

Sea investment

The services provided by Greece’s coastal shipping lines this summer have led to legitimate protests from island residents and travelers. A report published in Kathimerini’s Sunday edition highlighted that the services to and from the islands and the quality of the vessels themselves are worse than last year. The deterioration is not the result of just one factor: Three ships were withdrawn after the firm that owns them became burdened with excessive debts. A number of ships are out of service because of their advanced age while others – most importantly a modern high-speed ferry – have been docked due to mechanical problems. The introduction of a few new high-speed boats was not enough to cover the gaps. Moreover, high-speed ferries are more vulnerable to bad weather and more expensive to travel on, making them inaccessible to many frequent travelers. The Dodecanese Islands, to provide one example, are served by just one modern ship which is almost always overbooked. The three older boats also in service require many hours to reach the islands and lack basic facilities such as cabins. All this is happening a year after the Olympic Games, when tourist demand is on the rise and the country aspires to reinforce the good show it put on last summer. The situation is disappointing. It is not just about poor preparation, it also shows fundamental confusion between the goals of welfare and development. Social reasons mandate that Greece makes sure the inhabitants of its many islands can travel to and from them at a reasonable cost and that supplies to island destinations are transported at a fair price. Being a country that relies on tourism, Greece should adopt a policy regarding services and tickets which would ensure the renewal of the fleet with modern ships that will be attractive to visitors. If the current situation continues and unless there are no incentives for new investments, 36 conventional ships (that is, half the current fleet) could be withdrawn after 2008. Due to their high cost and inability to travel in poor weather, Greece cannot rely only on high-speed boats. High-speed boats must be able to write off their acquisition costs at a healthy rate but also have strong competition from conventional ships that will keep fares at reasonable prices. The current situation demonstrates that the state must re-evaluate its shipping policy by sponsoring not only certain services, but also the fares of the islands’ permanent residents. The state must also provide incentives so that vessels of good quality can start running certain routes. The current services are embarrassing for a country that possesses the world’s largest fleet.