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Cruise ships launch new season

Cruise ships launch new Greek holiday season.

International cruise firms could pump cash into major upgrades for Greek island ports in a bid to boost Greek island holidays.

Cruise liner giants Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Costa, MSC and Celebrity say they are interested in funding port improvements, but only if the Greek cruise market is liberalised.

It could mean major upgrades for Greek mainland ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki as well as for popular Greek holiday islands such as Rhodes and Crete.

Cruise market leader MSC wants to start circular Greek Island cruises quickly, but only if the cruise sector is fully opened up to competition and security standards for tourists are improved.

Restrictive practises have forced cruise companies to employ Greek crews, while passengers have been forced to stay aboard in some ports.

Cruise firms are particularly interested in expanding operations in Rhodes and Crete, as these can open the door to port cruises in Africa, Turkey and the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the arrival of the giant MSC cruise liner Magnifica at the port of Piraeus this week has opened this year's Greek Island cruise season.

The MSC Magnifica, at 293 metres long, features 17 decks and can carry 3,200 passengers and 1,100 crew. The cruise ship has a theatre, sports hall and a retractable roof.

A total of 800 cruise ships have already booked stops in Piraeus and other Greek Island ports for 2012. Last year Piraeus hosted 936 cruise ships and recorded more than 2.5 million passenger arrivals — a 35% increase on 2010.

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