“We have developed a number of specific measures to support maritime work by recognising the specifics of the maritime profession.”
GDL: How has the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy confronted and participated in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic?
YP: The first priority of all of us, in this difficult time, was the protection of public health, as well as the people around us. The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy took all the necessary measures in a timely manner to reduce the spread of the Pandemic. Measures are continuously examined and adapted daily.
From the first moment, we restricted maritime connections with Albania and Italy, restricted the arrival of private ships and yachts coming from abroad and prohibited the arrival of cruise ships in Greek ports. We then restricted the ability of ships to sail to the islands, allowing only permanent residents to travel there, for absolutely necessary reasons. We also banned swimming, amateur and underwater fishing, while suspending the operation of the country’s public Merchant Maritime Schools by establishing tele-education, so that the semester is not lost for students. At the same time, we implemented a repatriation programme for Greek citizens from abroad.
There is no doubt that we have taken difficult and unpopular measures to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and in doing so we have managed to minimise the number of cases, ensuring the uninterrupted connection between islands and mainland Greece.
GDL: In the midst of the pandemic, Greece was also encountering an increased influx of refugees and migrants via the sea. How did you cope with this reality?
YP: It is true that just a few days before the Covid-19 pandemic passed through Europe, migration flows to our islands had increased. At that time we had taken drastic measures to reduce them and we had already achieved this to a significant extent before the spread of the pandemic and the protection measures.
In the midst of the pandemic, there was a significant downward to zero trend of immigration flows with just a few attempts of illegal passage. It is noteworthy that such a decrease in the migration phenomenon (in zero or double digits) had not been previously recorded since the first half of 2012. This is attributed, on the one hand, to the timely detection of the incidents by the Hellenic Coast Guard and to the deterrent action recorded by forcing the Turkish authorities to respond to our request and on the other hand to the escalation of the Covid-19 pandemic in Turkey and its own restrictions to control it.
GDL: With respect to the sustainability of coastal shipping and meeting the needs of the islands, what initiatives have you undertaken so far?
YP: Both in coastal shipping and island entrepreneurship, and within the context of initiatives taken to alleviate sectors affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy has taken a number of specific and important measures covering critical parameters.
The connection of our islands with the mainland, the smooth operation of businesses, jobs, but also the further strengthening of the workers in the shipping industry were kept constant. We are strengthening the market with a liquidity of more than 33 million euros, while we are working with the relevant Ministries to develop a special programme to strengthen shipping companies affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, using European resources.
We supported island businesses with the institution of transport equivalent to resources of 11.2 million euros.
In cooperation with the Ministries of Finance and Development, an additional funding of 15 million euros was secured to ensure maritime transport services to the island areas, with the ultimate goal of leaving no island without a ferry connection. This funding was added to the 3.5 million euros with which maritime transport was strengthened since the beginning of the measures to limit the virus to the minimum due to the shipping service of the island regions of 29 connecting lines of the national and local shipping network.
The possibility of activating the procedure for additional assignments of public service contracts for a specific route or itineraries to the main and local ferry network has been provided for by an emergency legislative regulation.
In this way, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs And Insular Policy ensures the uninterrupted connection of the islands with the mainland and with each other, as well as the adequate and efficient transport of passengers and goods. Also, an advance payment of 50% for the leases for public service contracts in coastal shipping was granted for the months of February, March and April. According to the first calculations of the Directorate of Maritime Transport of the Ministry, it is estimated that this amount will amount to 7.5 million Euros.
We have developed a number of specific measures to support maritime work by recognising the specifics of the maritime profession. The provision of insurance capacity for unemployed sailors has already been provided for, the provision of emergency financial assistance to sailors as compensation for special purpose to sailors whose shipping contracts are suspended and to sailors whose shipping contract was terminated.
In the field of maritime education, we have made available to the teaching staff and students of the Merchant Navy’s public schools a modern telecommunications service using the digital platform Microsoft Teams in a free academic version, with the possibility of teleconferencing, simultaneous digital exchanges and digital archives, automatically create classes and classrooms based on the number of students attending each school.
5,313 students and 277 teachers are enrolled in the e-learning platform and e-learning. At the same time, procedures are underway to immediately implement the process of modern distance education using the digital platform Microsoft Teams (in a free academic version) and in public schools of postgraduate education, training and the training of merchant marine studies and naval officers in all categories and specialties.