Talk around the Piraeus harbor area these days centers on a plethora of meetings being held in a general effort to form new coastal shipping alliances and merges, such as the rumored alliance between Attica Enterprises (Superfast Ferries) and Minoan Lines. Then there’s the merger talks said to be underway between NEL and Dane Lines – Anek Lines holds a stake in both.
All this because most Greek coastal shipping lines are financially over extended. Their creditors now hold back on the flow of available funds and press for alliances with other Greek or foreign operators as a way out of the financial dilemma.
Banks estimate that the shipping companies’ need for liquidity -estimated at 274 million dollars – can only be met through the sale of vessels, or through major loan packages. Emphasis is placed on the sale of ships, particularly those that plough the Adriatic routes where additional revenue and expansion is limited.
Thus far, however, ferry operators have simply asked for a rescheduling of debts and have called on the government for assistance.
But Greece’s biggest ferry operator, Minoan Lines, is said to be ready to sell its Aretousa, its King Minos and its El Greco. There’re also rumors that it wants to unload its recently purchased Prometheas and Okeanos, which were slated to run the Adriatic routes, for about 79 million dollars each.
Anek is said to have a possible buyer for its Eleftherios Venizelos, which ploughed the Adriatic route last year, for some 55 million dollars.
And concerning its search for partners abroad, Minoan Lines continues its contacts with P&O group of companies as well as its cooperation with Grimaldi, while at the same time it remains open to new contacts and business proposals, particularly concerning its subsidiary Hellas Flying Dolphins.
Attica Enterprises is also oriented towards agreements on shares with Costa Crociere following its recent cooperation agreement.
But none of the above is considered easy. Already, some exploratory contacts with foreign operators were said to have yielded positive results initially but then foundered on Greek objections to relinquishing managerial control.
In the meantime, ferry operators here are strongly pressing for a revision of a draft bill on the deregulation of the industry, which would mean the end of cabotage and the entry of foreign operators into Greek waters in about a year’s time.
But the only positive act for the ferry lines so far is the recent announcement by Merchant Marine Minister Georgos Anomeritis that ends the free transportation of mail by coastal shippers to and from the islands. He said a rate tariff for the Hellenic Postal Service will soon be published in the Government Gazette.