The demand is there, says deputy shipping minister
By Jonathan Shkurko
The government’s proposal to re-establish a long-defunct car and passenger ferry service to Greece from Cyprus by the first quarter of 2020 will be based on a different approach this time, according to Shipping Deputy Minister Natasa Pilides.
The idea to reinstate the ferry link between the two countries, which was discontinued 18 years ago, has been mentioned many times over the years but has always come to nothing.
However, Pilides believes times are right to try and reboot what was once a very important service.
“Despite still being a very difficult project, this time the conditions to turn the proposal into reality are the right ones,” she told Sunday Mail.
These conditions include seeking EU funds to subsidise the project which the government believes will help cover the financial gap that will occur, at least initially.
“In the past there was no funding for the activity, so it was clearly run on the basis that it had to make a profit to survive, and, with more airlines entering the market and offering cheap flights to Greece, the ferry service couldn’t survive,” she said.
“However, the EU funding is going to significantly facilitate the implementation of the service and will make sure it will remain economically sustainable.”
The trip to Greece from Cyprus could take up to 30 hours each way, indubitably a big chunk of a two-week holiday, for example, especially if compared to the time a plane takes to reach Greece.
However, Pilides believes the demand is there.
“We have analysed the situation very carefully,” she said. “I believe there is a group of people for whom the service would be appealing, such as people who are afraid of taking a plane or people with health problems that prevent them from flying.
Students, who have long holidays, are another target group as are those who are moving home.
“Carrying bulky items on a plane is either very costly or not possible at all, in the majority of cases. The ferry service would be a good solution to these issues.”
Pilides acknowledges that, even by adding up the categories of people potentially attracted by the ferry link service, they might not be enough to make it a solid alternative to flying.
“We are not talking about a huge number of people who are going to be queuing up to board a ferry to Greece. But I think that the significantly cheaper ticket, especially during the summer period when plane fares skyrocket, would create a demand.
“Nevertheless, we are still talking about people who have the luxury of time. The project is not aimed at business-oriented passengers.
The pressure will also be on the company that provides the service to come up with ways of making the trip a more enjoyable experience for the passengers in order to increase the demand she said.
“With that in mind, the companies will get the EU funding that will allow them to keep low prices for the tickets.”
Despite lower prices than an airplane ticket being the government’s main selling point of the ferry link project, cruise and shipping companies have their doubts.
The general manager of Salamis Shipping Services Kikis Vassiliou said he could not see how ticket prices could be kept low, considering the costs that shipping companies face when transporting vehicles as well as people.
An airplane ticket price includes airport taxes, fuel surcharges, service and check-in fees.
Fuel surcharges are added to the ticket price to make up for the constant changes in the price of fuel price, which is the biggest item of expenditure for airlines.
“Still, the cost of a plane ticket fare is one thing, and the costs that shipping companies have to face for port fees and custom expenses are another,” Vassiliou told the Sunday Mail.
“We are talking about a massive difference between the two and I don’t see how a ferry ticket for a trip from Cyprus to Greece could cost less than a plane ticket.
“In addition to that, a ferry ticket will also include port fees and custom formalities in Cyprus and in Greece. It’s neither a cheap, nor an easy operation,” Vassiliou said.
Despite the difficulties, Pilides remains confident the car and passenger ferry service will be a success, counting on the fact that trips might not just be between Cyprus and Greece, but could also include other countries such as Lebanon, Israel and Egypt.
“As the minimum frequency for the service we want to implement is once per week in the summer and once per fortnight in the winter, it would make sense for the companies to offer other destinations apart from Greece in the service,” she said.
“However, those destinations will not be subsidised by the EU, only the link to Greece will be. So it’s ultimately up to each company to decide whether they want to offer additional destination to passengers.”
Whether the implementation of a ferry link will become reality next year remains to be seen. Certainly, though, bringing back a service that seemed to be gone for good could have beneficial effects for the Cypriot economy and tourism.