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Greek seamen drop anchor

- by Andy Cornish

Strikes threaten Greek holidays.

Holiday visitors to the Greek Islands could find ferry services halted if shipping companies fail to find back pay owed to crews.

Seamen's unions are angry at the reluctance of some passenger ship companies to settle unpaid wages. They have already staged a two-day strike in protest at the situation and threaten to take matters further.

The Panhellenic Seamen's Union PNO claims that for the past two years, shipping companies have been taking advantage of the political and financial situation of Greece to stall on salary payments to their employees.

They allege that some mariners have been working unpaid for as long as six months. The union is also angry at government plans to impose extra taxes on tourist vessels.

The executive board of PNO has already decided to immobilize ships whose owners owe back-pay to their employees and several ships have been confined to port.

They are also to join a 24-hour nationwide strike on the day theGreek Ministry of Shipping tables its bill on tourist vessels on April 9. PNO has sent an official announcement to the Greek Prime Minister, leaders of the Greek political parties and shipping companies protesting at the issue of unpaid wages.

Action has so far been confined to the port of Piraeus but it could be extended to other ports across Greece and the Greek islands and upset the plans of many holidaymakers this summer.

Greek shipping companies themselves are in dispute with the government over plans to make them contribute more to help the country's ailing finances.

In particular, Greek ship owners may be see tonnage taxes tripled to help the Greek economy. The President of the Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS), Theodoros Veniamis warns the new measure may be unconstitutional.

He said the biggest problem is not the amount of money that many Shipowners will have to pay but that the Greek government plans to make the existing voluntary compulsory.

If the Greek government refuses to change course, Greek Shipowners are threatening to sail under foreign flags or to move their companies abroad.

The unsettled situation will do little for the Greek tourism industry with record numbers expected to book Greek Island holidays this year. Any visitors who plan to use Greek Island ferries may well look elsewhere unless the situation can be quickly resolved.