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German and Spanish interest for Cyprus-Greece ferry link

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Companies from Germany and Spain are interested to bid for the Cyprus-Greece ferry link that will be reinstated after 20 years, but the outcome depends on EU competition approval, the junior minister for shipping said.

Natasa Pilides, Deputy Minister for Shipping ever since the former department of merchant shipping was restructured two years ago, said the matter is pending final approval from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for competition.

“We don’t want to rush and make hasty decisions that will jeopardise the ferry link in the future.”

Pilides added: “We have been approached by many companies in addition to Cyprus and Greece, more specifically from Germany and Spain.”

However, she explained that for the ferry link to be financially viable to the operator, “the terms must be attractive, the ticket price (for passengers) must be attractive and we must consider the long-term safety conditions.”

The ferry link, which must include roll-on, roll-off (RO-RO) services for passenger cars and commercial trucks, should be operated once a week in summer or “at least twice a month” in winter and allowed only one stop-over between Cyprus and Greece.

It is widely believed that the stop would be a port in Crete, due to the commercial trade and tourism interest, whereas Rhodes would be a smaller market and probably not viable.

“The operator can also stop in Santorini or even Mykonos if they want, but the viability is crucial. We don’t want to start a ferry link, only to be faced with higher costs later in time, resulting in the suspension of the line.”

Pilides cautioned that if the operator makes more than one stop, then it will not be eligible for the €5 mln subsidy, arising mostly from the Cyprus government, but probably with some contribution from Brussels as well.

This would help keep ticket costs limited at around €130, while the stopover should also be brief and not last for several hours.

In earlier comments to the Financial Mirror, Pilides had said that “once we get the final go-ahead, then the DMS will call for tenders. The plan is to call for tenders sometime during Easter, and if all goes well then the state will award the contract in the summer.”

The Deputy Minister said the exact date of the launch of the ferry link will be determined by when the contracts are signed.

“If they are not signed in time for the summer season, then the link will be reinstated the following summer, as estimates show the link will not be able to operate during the low season,” said Pilides.

Interested shipowners who are planning to submit a tender for this project should have a ship capable of carrying both passengers and freight.

However, Pilides stressed that the government will only be financing the cost of carrying passengers.

“We assured the European Commission that the subsidy is not exploited by the shipowner to subsidise cargo. And this is why we must not circumvent the rules of competition.”

The plan is for a ferry departing Limassol port for a Greek port, possibly that of Piraeus, once a week during the summer months, while in the winter the passenger service to Greece will be every fortnight.

Resumption of the ferry service was put back on the political agenda after DISY MPs Nicos Tornaritis and Annita Demetriou raised the issue in parliament in September 2018.

The two MPs aimed to exert pressure on the governments of Cyprus and Greece to revive the sea link, with efforts paying off.

They argue that the link is of the utmost importance as it would create new prospects for trade relations between Cyprus and Greece, as well as promoting Cypriot exports to the rest of Europe.