Two ruling party DISY MPs are campaigning to restore a commercial passenger ferry link between Cyprus and Greece after an 18-year absence and there is interest if it could be EU-funded.
MPs Nikos Tornaritis and Annita Demetriou have tabled the issue to be discussed in parliament, in a move to exert pressure on Nicosia and Athens to revive the ferry route.
There has been no commercial ferry link between the two countries since it was stopped at the beginning of the millennium when operator Salamis Tours phased it out as it was lossmaking.
And the cost of such a venture is currently putting shipping and cruise companies off, but some would be willing to participate in an investment if the project was to be co-financed.
Salamis Shipping CEO, Kikis Vassiliou said the price of a ferry which would be able to carry both passengers and cargo, at speeds which will make it worthwhile for travellers to go by sea, cost anything between EUR 15 to 30 mln.
Salamis Tours operated the last ferry link to Greece from 1993 until 2000 when demand had faded out and trips stopped.
Vassiliou said that after airfares were liberalized, a series of airlines came to Cyprus and prices dropped dramatically.
“This competition led travellers preferring to travel by plane, and us to deal with unfair competition. The port taxes alone cost more than air tickets. We had to sell those ferries at humiliating prices,” said Vassiliou.
He said a couple of Greek companies ran the line, while Salamis had two ships.
He said that Salamis is still running the route with a RORO (Roll on/Roll off) ship which is mainly for cargo but is not a commercial passenger ferry.
This ferry can only carry up to 12 passengers, who are usually soldiers or people accompanying livestock.
“We do occasionally take on board travellers who are not able for one reason or another to fly. But the cost for these passengers is significantly higher than taking a plane,” said Vassiliou.
He said that his company is ready to invest and restore the line to Piraeus, but Salamis has not been contacted by anyone from the government.
The government, however, does not appear to be convinced that reinstating the ferry connection between Greece and Cyprus is viable.
In previous comments to the Financial Mirror, a government source said that such a venture entails a huge cost, not only for purchasing ships but running them.
“That would mean that cabins, cleaning services and food would have to be provided to passengers, rocketing costs to an extent that it is virtually impossible to cover by the state or a company,” said the source.
This would make travelling to Greece by ferry five times more expensive than going by plane if it is not subsidised.
“This being the case, there is simply no demand. Apart from a few people who would like to take their car or motorbike with them while on holiday, there is no serious demand to justify spending millions of Euros on such a project,” said the source.
The Cyprus Republic has looked into the matter several times without being able to conclude that this is a viable project.
And the source said that the only way this project could get off the ground, “would be if the EU could fund it. However, EU bodies have also found the project not to be viable”.
Source: Financial Mirror