Larnaca municipality and the town’s business and tourism authorities said on Monday the terms included in the tender for the ferry connection between Greece and Cyprus favours Limassol port as the base for the routes.

But this was denied by the deputy ministry of shipping, which later the same day issued a statement to clarify that the tender – which closes on January 29 – cites both Limassol and Larnaca ports as options with “absolutely no distinction” between the two.

Earlier, the municipality, the Larnaca chamber of commerce and industry and the Larnaca Tourism Board had said the competition announced by the deputy ministry for tourism “includes conditions that obviously favour the choice of Limassol port over that of Larnaca.”

The Larnaca authorities said that the main criterion for evaluating the competition with a weight of 55 per cent, is distance, while it is known that Larnaca is further from Piraeus in Greece than Limassol. Other important parameters have not been considered, however, they said, such as the processing time of the whole operation.

They added that while the decisive criterion of the tender is the price, it raises questions over competition as there is no reference to port fees, “which may determine not only the final outcome of the tender but also the future success and viability of the whole project.”

In addition to the above, there are other elements in the tender which seems to give a clear advantage to Limassol port as the point of departure/ arrival such as the issue of transport of motor vehicles.

They also cite statements by the deputy minister for shipping himself, who, in an interview, “was essentially prejudging the outcome of the tender.” They quote the shipping ministry saying that Larnaca is disadvantaged in terms of distance and they point out that he did not refer to other factors in which Larnaca has an advantage.

“There is no doubt that Larnaca port, with its recent outsourcing of large-scale and state-of-the-art development to a private investor, will be a focal point in the Eastern Mediterranean,” they said. “At the same time, however, it has the unique comparative advantage of being located in the city centre and having an international airport at a very close distance and this is a feature that is preferred by ferry companies.”

Therefore, they said, this tender, in the way it has been drawn up, prevents potential bidders from choosing Larnaca port as the point of the ferry connection. “We call on the competent government department to take the appropriate measures to correct this unequal treatment,” they said.

In its reply, the deputy ministry said that the tender set as a criterion the duration of the journey, and not the distance. “The duration of the journey doubtless constitutes a significant element which will determine demand and therefore could not be excluded as a criterion for evaluation,” it said.

Saying that the deputy minister Vassilis Demetriades has in all his remarks made clear that the tender offers a choice of either Limassol or Larnaca port, the deputy ministry expressed surprise it has not received any complaint so far from a Larnaca local authority or body.

The tender competition was launched after the EU’s General Directorate for Competition gave the green light for state support for the implementation of the ferry route that is set to run once a week during the summer months (May to September) and once every two weeks during the winter months (October to April), thus strengthening the connectivity of Cyprus with mainland Europe.

Tickets for the around 30-hour ferry trip to Greece are expected to cost €50 one-way and €80 return. Officials had announced on several occasions that there were thoughts for an intermediate stop, such as Rhodes.