In historic change, Greece lifts cabotage for cruise ships
Thursday, 26 August 2010 10:59
The international cruise industry, and its Greek chapter in particular, yesterday won a prize it has sought for years when the Greek parliament formally approved a law lifting cabotage restrictions on cruise vessels.
Yesterday’s activity, in which parliament voted on the details of the law following its approval in principle on Tuesday, could lead to an economic bonanza for the local cruise and tourism industries, according to interested observers in Greece.

Indeed, Markos Foros, president of the Association of Greek Passenger Shipping Companies, estimated the cumulative potential value of lifting the restrictions at as much as €1bn per year.

Under the terms of the new law, which is effective immediately, international cruise companies will now be able to embark and disembark passengers at Greek ports, once they have signed a formal three-year contract with the government submitting to certain conditions.

Such vessels must comply with international standards of safety and seaworthiness, have a minimum capacity of 49 passengers, and offer round-trip cruises that start and end at the same port and have a minimum duration of 48 hours.

A requirement that ships must remain a minimum of 12 hours in port to take on and discharge passengers prior to leaving was changed to eight hours at the eleventh hour. Foros said he believed this was sufficient time for passenger embarkation and disembarkation, while safeguarding work opportunities for service providers in Greek ports.

Commenting on the law, Foros said he was ‘very happy’ it had passed, adding: ‘I hope tourism will increase and revenues will grow. If Greek ports can reach the same level, not as the Italian ports, which are clearly number one, but as the ports of Spain, we could see an increase in revenues of €1bn.

‘My only concern is whether various leftist parties will abide by the law,’ he added, citing disruptions to cruise calls earlier this year by union members who opposed the proposed changes to the cabotage laws on the grounds that they would hit jobs.

Passengers from several vessels had trouble returning to their ships after seafarers from the Hellenic Seamen’s Federation blockaded the cruise terminal in Piraeus. To the dismay of the local cruise and tourism community, Pullmantur responded by diverting Zenith from Piraeus to Malta for one call.

Foros acknowledged there had been no threat of similar action since the bill had passed, but he also noted ‘this is a situation that may arise next year.’ He argued that ‘if they don’t abide by the law, the government will have to respond.’

Smaller ports could clearly benefit from fresh investment as the impact of the changes hits home, but larger facilities are ready to handle any increase in throughput, he said. ‘Investment is not 100% necessary because cruise ships are already calling. It is just that they are not embarking or disembarking passengers.’

He added that Greece is already a major global cruise destination, with as many as 1.8m passengers per year visiting the country.

FMI: In historic change, Greece lifts cabotage for cruise ships