The European Commission has agreed to changes in the tender framework for a planned ferry link to Greece, raising hopes the long-discontinued service could attract interest from potential bidders, deputy shipping minister Vasilis Demetriades said on Wednesday.
Efforts, underway for several years to restore a ferry link between Cyprus and Pireaus, took a blow earlier last year when an invitation for tenders approved by the EU’s DG Competition failed to attract any bids.
The deputy shipping ministry then sought approval to change the procedure so as to invite tenders for a seasonal rather than a regular service, which potential bidders had seen as a deterrent.
“We received the green light which allows us to consider the possibility of a new tenders’ document with the choice of a seasonal schedule,” Demetriades told the Cyprus Mail.
“We received positive news for a parameter that carriers had informed us should change and we will continue this effort,” he added.
The tenders process closed on January 29 without any bids, despite €5m in EU-approved state support.
Demetriades said that consultations with interested companies immediately after the deadline of the tenders had shown that the requirement the service be a regular one had served as an obstacle to bids being submitted.
“Changing the service to seasonal may give more options, since it will allow the carrier to use their ship for other schedules during the winter, while fellow residents can use this service during the summer which as a general rule is when it is needed,” he added.
But he tempered his cautious optimism saying that though this was a step forward, there were no guarantees that a new tenders’ procedure would succeed.
“With this in hand, we are now going to a new cycle of contacts with the companies as regards a seasonal service so as to see whether there are prospects to draw up a new tenders document,” he added.
The state subsidy for the service is expected to remain at €5m a year, and there may be other minor amendments to the competition which do not require the approval of DG Competition.
Depending on the outcome of these consultations, a new competition may be launched in autumn so that the tender can be awarded by the end of the year and the service start in spring 2022.
Demetriades had gone to Brussels earlier this year in an effort to ensure better terms, including the creation of a seasonal six to seven months duration instead of an all-year-round line.
The maritime connection between Cyprus and Greece has been inactive since 2000. The deputy ministry sought to revive the connection with a €5 million subsidy approved by the EU’s DG Competition.
Under the terms, the connection was due to commence in the summer of 2021 even amid the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
Under EU rules concerning general economic interest services, the state subsidy was solely associated with the passenger aspect of the ferry link.