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03 October, 2000
Merchant Marine Minister Christos Papoutsis, addressing the European Union Council of Transport Ministers on Monday, said the Greek government's policy is aimed at modernizing the country's coastal shipping fleet and that "it will soon be submitting a law on the deregulation of coastal sea transport."
At the end of the meeting, which focused on shipping safety, Papoutsis said that at its start the French EU Presidency, the European Commission and all member-states expressed their solidarity and sincere condolences over the sea tragedy which occurred in Greece late Tuesday night off the coast of the island of Paros and cost the life of at least 79 persons.
Papoutsis referred to the tragedy and expressed the Greek government's will and commitment to have ample light shed on the causes of the tragedy and to have responsibilities apportioned.
He said that despite the fact that in all EU member-states there is no limit for the age of ships, Greece will maintain the 35-year age limit, adding that in the event of a change it will only be in the direction of decreasing it.
Papoutsis proposed the start of a dialogue at European level on determining an age limit for passenger ships active in Europe and said this limit could also be determined below 35 years.
He also briefed ministers on the implementation of directive 98/18 on upgrading safety and fire protection systems on ships, saying that from the start the Greek authorities had insisted on the strict implementation of the directive.
Referring to the Greek coastal shipping fleet, Papoutsis said, "out of 500 ships 431 have complied. A ban on sailings was imposed on the 69 ships failing to comply by the final date of October 1, 2000, anticipated by national and EU legislation, and they were given a 20-day deadline to comply with the provisions contained in directive 98/18."
Papoutsis underlined that should they fail to comply, their license will be lifted.
Focusing on issues listed in the agenda, Papoutsis underlined the need to strengthen control of ships in ports and the need to increase relevant funds, as well as necessary staff, to enable national authorities to reliably meet the provisions of the directive on ship controls in ports, as was agreed at the council.
Commenting on the issue of harmonizing legislation on the working conditions and rights of workers, Papoutsis said the governments of member-states and the European Commission should guarantee an improvement in seamen's working conditions.
In another development, Papoutsis delivered a letter to Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio on Monday in connection with a letter sent by EU official Francois Lamoureux to the Greek authorities.
In his letter to the Spanish commissioner, Papoutsis indirectly expresses the Greek government's annoyance over the fact that the letter was made public before it was formally received and at a time of particular sensitivity and grief for the Greek people.
He also mentioned that "the letter's tone and character gave an excuse for unsubstantiated generalizations concerning the safety of the coastal shipping fleet."
According to well-informed sources, the Spanish commissioner expressed her regret to Papoutsis over the letter being leaked to the Greek and international press.
Source: Athens News Agency