Citing slack fire safety measures, merchant marine ministry prevents ageing vessels from sailing. In a dramatic move, the government suspended the licences of 65 ageing Greek passenger ferries and cruise ships after the Express Samina disaster. The list includes ferries that service Greece's busiest routes and is set to shake up the coastal shipping industry. The ban gives ferry operators 20 days to implement appropriate safety measures.
Christos Papoutsis, the embattled merchant marine minister, chaired marathon talks to review licences for ships more than 27 years of age. "No exceptions will be made... Unless all the (safety) documents are submitted, the ships will be prevented from sailing," he said. The move follows intense criticism of the government over Greece's passenger fleet, the oldest in the European Union, and failure to save Samina passengers who were stranded less than two miles from the popular Cycladic resort island of Paros. The ship sank on night 26 September night after hitting a well-marked islet off Paros.
In a telephone interview, Papoutsis denied that the measure was taken in reaction to the Express Samina tragedy. He stressed that passenger shipping companies had been warned two years ago, and received fresh warnings as recently as September 1.
"We must not disparage Greek shipping," said Papoutsis. "These ships are not being withdrawn. Shipping regulations are divided into five categories, depending on the length of a trip. They are safe ships, but they must comply with the regulations [of their respective category]," he said.
Greece's ferries are exempt from EU regulations which require the withdrawal of ferries after 27 years of service. In this country, ships may operate for 35 years, on condition that stringent safety checks are regularly carried out.