Greece's ferry owners are poised to take legal action against the Greek government in a further bid to force it to throw off shackles that the industry says are threatening to squeeze it out of existence.
The Association of Greek Coastal Shipping Companies has decided to instruct legal counsel “in order to speed up” the full implementation by Greece of European Union Council regulation 3577/92 regarding freedom to provide maritime transport services.
“This has been our core issue for the coastal shipping sector and will provide an overall improvement in the services rendered, and create a highly competitive sector,” said association president Apostolos Ventouris. He described a number of the government’s levies and outdated laws applied to ferry services as “appalling”.
According to the association, the state receives annual income of up to $175m solely from indirect mandatory taxes, representing 33%-43% of fares.
“These charges on all of the tickets halt the ability of all companies to implement competitive practices, further decreasing the total traffic transported in Greece, especially during the current period of financial unrest,” Mr Ventouris said.
The levies included VAT of 9% on passenger fares and 19% on vehicles, port taxes of 5%, a tax linked to public service route subsidies and a mandatory 6.5% passenger and vehicle insurance charge paid to the national seafarers’ pension fund.
The latter represented double charging, Mr Ventouris claimed, as companies were obliged to have P&I coverage. This was was “completely unacceptable and not what it was originally introduced for”.
Operators remained burdened with port charges for luggage carriers and tenders shuttling passengers between vessel and shore, even though both services had not existed since the 1970s, he said.
Indirect costs the industry is complaining about include rigid manning criteria that do not accord with vessels.
“My own company has a vessel that was routed in France with a [safe manning] crew of 17, whereas in Greece the union of seafarers demanded the vessel have a total of 34 crew members,” said Mr Ventouris, who heads NEL Lines.
“The particular vessel is a high-speed craft that does not have a galley. It is unbelievable, but our company was obliged to hire cooks. All the ships are overstaffed by 80%-100%, which is unheard of anywhere else in the world,” he said.
Another cause of the industry’s ire is “outdated” legislation requiring continual service for seven and a half months for fast ferries and 10 months for conventional ferries, with minimum 10-month employment spells for crew.
“No one has even thought about the effect on the companies, the environment or even the seafarers.
“Even the hotels in the destinations the ships travel to are closed,” Mr Ventouris said. “Can you imagine the waste of energy this creates, not to mention the pollution?”
Mr Ventouris said it was imperative to apply European Union rules: “It will immediately and dramatically lower the cost of all ferry tickets for all passengers, which in turn should increase traffic. Thus, coastal shipping companies will be able to increase revenue and profits due to the economies of scale achieved,” he said.
Leading ferry ticket aggregator Direct Ferries has launched a new ferry booking system for travel agents allowing them to make reservations and manage bookings across a vast route network on behalf of their customers.