Greece’s coastal shipping companies say new legislation that aims to liberalize the sector and open Greek routes to competition counters free enterprise and allows for greater state intervention. They even went as far as to say the bill creates the risk of placing some companies on the brink of bankruptcy.
Unless the bill is changed, ferry owners threaten to take their case to the European Union, to stop flying the Greek flag on some ships plying the Greece-Italy route, and to pull out of the joint committee aimed at regulating coastal shipping.
The bill in question, presented recently to parliament by the Merchant Marine Ministry, sets the framework for the coastal shipping sector after Greece allows foreign competition on local routes from October 31, 2002. The EU deadline was January 1, 2004, but after a major accident last September (with the loss of 80 lives) the ministry sped up the end of protectionism measures for Greek ships and took a number of measures aimed at achieving greater security.
The marine ministry has completely ignored our proposals, said Stelios Zambetakis, managing director of Anek Lines and the president of passenger shipowners association, and with the amendments made to the bill, “state intervention will be greater and will create conditions of economic suffocation for the companies.”
Mr. Zambetakis said Greek coastal shipowners disagree with four basic points in the bill. First, they believe that the state’s right to force shipowners to perform public services creates conditions of unfair competition and is a serious threat to their economic stability and survival.
Second, they say that the state should not be permitted to dictate how many crew members each ship must employ, but rather allow owners to work with crew each ship requires for safe voyages.
Third, government should not force ships to sail for 10 months a year, instead their should be allowance for four-month breaks, which will allow vessels to lay up during times of little business.
And fourth, the proposed retirement of vessels at 30 years old will overturn all economic planning and force some companies into bankruptcy. They stressed that the present requirement for a vessel to retire at 35 is a unique Greek phenomenon.
Mr. Zambetakis added that the 35-year limit would reduce the number of ships to 112 in 2007 and the 30-year limit to 101. The coastal shippers argue that they have spent more than $5 million since 1998 upgrading older vessels in accordance with the EU’s Eurosolas agreement. Furthermore, they argued, scrapping older vessels would mean that many small islands that cannot offer docking facilities to new-technology vessels would not be served adequately by ferries.