By Stelios Orphanides
A representative for the Cyprus Ports Authority pilots said that they will suspend their strike action on Tuesday morning, and give Dubai Ports and the government a week to accept their proposals or otherwise shut the Limassol port indefinitely.
“We will meet with the representative of Dubai Ports tomorrow at 10 am and the meeting will be completed by 11 am,” Demetris Patsalos, chairman of the independent union of Cyprus Ports Authority workers said in a telephone interview on Monday afternoon. “We are not expending though that there will be a breakthrough. Their representative already informed us that he is not authorised to discuss the matter”.
Pilots at the Limassol ports, employed by the Cyprus Ports Authority and tasked with navigating ships into and out of the Limassol port, entered an indefinite strike on Monday to protest the intention of Dubai Ports to employ non-Cypriot pilots. Dubai Ports won the competition for the port’s marine services and the general cargo operations in March. Patsalos cited a 2011 cabinet decision which prescribes that pilots employed by the Cyprus Ports Authority need to be Cypriot nationals. He also said that national security issues make this necessary and added that this is common practice in other European Union countries.
On its website, the logistics firm G.A.P. Vassilopoulos which is Dubai Port’s partner in the Limassol port, posted vacancies for “skilled Greek and English speaking” staff, including marine pilots. Vassilopoulos was not available for a comment.
“There will be no strike at the port again because of us,” Patsalos said. “We will give them a week to think about our proposal and after that week we will go ahead with an agreement with a (marine services) Greek company or another one from a different EU country”.
“Should however the ministry attempt to change the nationality clause, then the port will be shut once more and will never open again,” Patsalos said adding that according to the terms of the agreement signed by Dubai Ports, “it was clear that they will have to respect the legislation”.
“If they change the clause and our interests are affected, the port will be shut,” Patsalos said in response to a question on how the port will be shut. He added that the ministry vowed many times that it will not attempt to change that clause barring non-Cypriots from becoming pilots at Cypriot ports.
Earlier on Monday, Patsalos said that he expected the parliament “to intervene” without elaborating.
According to the Cyprus News Agency, the Limassol harbour master George Pouros said that there had been no problems in servicing ships on Monday at the port. Transport Minister Marios Demetriades was unavailable for comment.
The commercialisation of the Limassol port which is expected to generate a total of €1.9bn over the next 25 years, was part of Cyprus’s bailout terms agreed with creditors in March 2013 and became possible only after the government agreed to compensate workers and other companies operating at the port and offer Cyprus Ports Authority workers the possibility to early retire.