The European Commission has given the green light to state support for a Cyprus-Greece ferry link, opening the way for a tender to launch the service, outgoing deputy shipping minister Natasa Pilides said on Monday.
She said that the EC’s DG Competition had authorised a maximum of €6m annually in state aid for the planned ferry.
Pilides was speaking at a press conference taking stock of her work as Cyprus’ first deputy minister for shipping since her appointment two and half years ago. She is to be sworn in as new Energy Minister tomorrow. Vasilis Demetriades will be sworn in as deputy shipping minister.
Efforts have been underway to relaunch a much-awaited ferry link between Greece and Cyprus after it was suspended some 20 years ago, with the deputy ministry spearheading the initiative.
Talks on state aid started in July 2019 and concluded successfully with the announcement on July 3 by the EU’s DG Competition that the ferry can be considered a general economic interest service under EU rules and can be supported with state funds.
“We are especially happy with this positive development. It is a significant step towards the implementation of this project, since securing approval from the European Commission was crucial and is a precondition to the next actions,” she said.
However, there is still a way to go as the next step is an open tenders process, she added.
The documents have been drafted to comply with EU regulations so as to ensure that the subsidy covers only the cost of transferring the passengers and not the cargo, that it does not create unfair competition and that overcompensation is avoided.
The contract with the winning bidder will be for three years with the option to renew for another three.
The link will be with a Ro-Pax car ferry that will carry passengers and their vehicles as well as cargo. The itinerary will be from Limassol or Larnaca port to Piraeus and back with the possibility of an intermediate stop. The service, once a week in the summer (May to September) and once every two weeks in the winter (October-April), is expected to create a new market for travellers to and from Cyprus and Europe.
“The aim of the deputy ministry is for this effort to strengthen Cyprus’ connectivity with continental Europe. Currently, the only available means of transport to and from Cyprus is air transport, ” she said.
Looking back on her time at the deputy ministry, Pilides also cited the successful approval of Cyprus’ shipping tax regime by the EU for another 10 which she said ensured stability for the shipping sector.
And she said action had been taken to upgrade Cyprus’ image as a shipping centre and improve the competitiveness of the shipping register with a review of the pricing regime and the simplification in procedures to register a ship. Emphasis was also given to support shipping during the pandemic, she said.