Ferry Shipping News asked the Chairman of the Hellenic Passenger Shipping Business Association (PSBA), Mr. Michalis Sakellis, about the Greek Ferry Scene developments within the covid-19 environment.


1. Mr Chairman, what is the current situation within the Hellenic Coastal Shipping and which is the role of the PSBA?

The Hellenic Coastal Shipping has a significant social and national role and is going to face great challenges (fleet age, new environmental regulations, LNG fuel etc). In it, there are 105 active ferries that serve the islands and offer excellent services year-round. Today, we are entering a decade of great developments and many problems that we should solve.

The major challenges that we have to deal with are:

  • the need to renew the Hellenic Ferry Fleet, which is growing in age
  • the fact that we are forced to withdrew those ships that will not be able to adapt or operate within the new environmental circumstances that have been developed
  • the additional burden due to the designation of the Mediterranean as an Emission Control Area (ECA) area
  • the lack of used ships -within the International market- that are environmentally friendly and suitable for the Greek ferry service.

In other words, there is a great risk of degradation of our Ferry services, both in terms of quality as well as in terms of capacity. The only solution seems to be the building of new ships, a process that should have already begun. There are some companies that have preceded with such shipbuilding plans. However, these plans have been put aside due to the current crisis.

Within that framework, Passenger Shipping Business Association (PSBA) has an important role to play, as it represents all passenger ships and ferries in Greece whose transport traffic exceeds annually 20 million passengers, 3 million private vehicles and 750,000 trucks. PSBA, through the years, contributed to the development of the country’s Ferry system as well as to the further upgrade of the Hellenic Ferry Fleet. With continuous participation and proposals in all the decisions that have been taken to support the sector. In any case, the Association’s contribution to the sector have been recognized as the most important factor in the development of the islands as well as an important factor of tourism throughout the country.

2.  Can you estimate the reduction in the traffic figures as well as the financial losses suffered by the ferry companies for the summer season 2020?

Obviously, 2020 is not a very good year for the Hellenic Coastal Shipping, mainly due to its great dependence on tourism. In normal periods, more than 65% of the traffic (more than 12 million Greek or foreign passengers) travel for tourism. Furthermore, 2020 started well in terms of traffic (January 1 – March 19, 2020). Bookings were significantly increased showing positive signs in terms of extending the tourist season. Unfortunately, these positive prospects were refuted due to the pandemic. The decline in tourism is estimated at 80%, while we all have experienced the unpleasant effects of the pandemic. According to the available data, for the period January 1 to October 31, 2020, we can safely predict that the traffic figures -compared to 2019- will be significantly reduced. More specifically in the domestic lines:

  • Passengers: -10,300,000 (-55%)
  • Vehicles: -670,000 (-35%)
  • Trucks: -100,000 (-20%)

Even more disappointing is the picture on the Adriatic services, where in normal periods the annual traffic figures were 570,000 passengers and 165,000 trucks! The Adriatic routes were seriously affected mainly by the ban on passenger transportation until June as well as the significant reduction followed in the remaining months. Nevertheless, all sailings were performed as planned.

  • Passengers: -400,000 (-70%)
  • Vehicles: -100,000 (-60%)
  • Trucks: -13,000 (-8%)

Regarding the loss of revenue and the financial results of the ferry companies, our negative forecasts for reduction of fare revenues were verified. That is estimated to reach or even exceed €300 million with loss-making results of 2020 that will exceed €100 million, without calculating the State aid, which unfortunately remained in low levels.

3. What is the state’s reaction so far to support the sector?

Despite the fact that there was an enforcement of Public Services as well as compulsory sailings, the compensations provided by the state were not sufficient. The losses from fares will certainly exceed €100 million, while the companies’ state aid was only €22 million concerning:

  • Public Service Contracts (COVID Contracts) €17 million (VAT deducted)
  • Subsidies for employer’s contributions €5 million
  • Measures taken about cash facilities and work support measures, such as suspension of tax payments and insurance obligations as well as loan installments, repayable advance and suspension of worker’s contracts

4. Do you have any specific proposals to address the problem?

Our Association has already proposed to the Government to take measures for the first five months of 2021, where the results are completely predictable. These measures are aimed to strengthen the Sector in order to manage to respond effectively to its crucial role. The necessity of taking these measures is important, otherwise we will be forced to withdraw ferries that offer quality and reliable services to the islands.

I think we must tell the truth, if we want to understand the real magnitude of the problem caused and face it. In any case, our ships will continue to offer the necessary services. However, if ferry companies are financially exhausted, they will be forced to withdraw ships from the major lines and then the damage will be irreparable. For that reason, we have proposed to the Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy the following measures:

Domestic Lines

  • definition of the necessary ferry services until May 31, 2021 based on the sailings of 2020 and signing Public Service Contracts
  • definition of subsidies according to the ship’s actual operational costs
  • extension of the subsidy of the employers’ contributions (sea and land staff) until 31.5.2021
  • reduction of port expenses by 50% (Piraeus)
  • put into force the reduced VAT rates to the vehicle tickets as well
  • winter crew compositions until May 31, 2021
  • extension of the suspending employment contracts of seafarers until May 31, 2021
  • extension of the measure of tax payment and insurance obligations payment to 24 months.

Adriatic Lines

Similar measures were proposed for the Adriatic service as well, since the Greek Ferry Fleet supports the imports and exports of our country:

  • possibility of subsidizing the sailings
  • extension of the suspending employment contracts of seafarers until May 31, 2021

extension of the subsidy of the employers’ contributions (sea and land staff), until May 31, 2021as well as strengthening financially the Companies with the sailor’s withholding tax

5. Do you believe that Greek ferry companies will manage to overcome the current crisis and what will be next?

It seems that the latest restraint measures taken by the government concerning the ferry transportations will remain active in the next months. Bearing in mind that traffic during the first 3-month period of 2020 was positive and observing the current developments, it is certain that in the first five months of 2021 the traffic will be significantly reduced, compared to 2020. Additionally, the next months may not be unaffected by the large number of covid-19 cases we experience today. Furthermore, despite the optimistic messages about the vaccine, which among other things will improve our psychology, if all goes well tourism in 2021 is expected to be reduced by 50% compared to 2019.  On the other hand, in contrast to 2019, ferry operators start a new year (2021) with great losses, low cash reserves and their lending status (Banks and State) being increased and constantly increasing. So, it is seems that 2021 will not be a profitable year for the ferry sector and tourism as well.

Spyridon Roussos