Ferry Tradewinds – The Maritime Economy of the Greek Isles

Ferries are a convenient way to travel between Greek islands. However, the industry faces some challenges.

Among them, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to slash passenger revenue and transportation volumes significantly. This is a major challenge that the ferry industry must address. It can only be done with a thorough understanding of the sector.

What is the Greek Ferry Industry?

Ferries are the only way to get to many of the Greek Islands. They operate all year round although frequency tends to increase during the peak season. In the past the industry was plagued by monopolies and poor quality but in recent years there have been heavy investments into new ships and increased competition.

Some of the most well known companies are Minoan Lines, Blue Star Ferries, Anes Ferries and Hellenic Seaways. They run a variety of different vessels, from large conventional ferries to small hydrofoils. They travel all around Greece and offer a wide range of cabin options and seating arrangements.

These ferries are also very expensive to run, which means that ticket prices can be high and finding schedules months in advance can be difficult. However, they are reliable and follow strict regulations to ensure passenger safety.

There are also other smaller ferry companies that operate within island groups or between mainland ports and some of the smaller islands. These ferries tend to be more economical but may not have as much space or facilities on board.

There are also a number of fast-ferries, called “Dolphins” in Greece, that can be up to twice as fast as the regular ferries but are also twice as expensive. These can be a good option for travellers on a tight schedule but they are often prone to cancellations due to weather conditions.

How is the Greek Ferry Industry Organized?

The Greek ferry industry is dominated by a few large companies, including Anek Lines, Hellenic Seaways and Minoan Lines. These giants have gobbled up the most popular routes. Smaller ferries still operate in smaller regions and on less popular itineraries. Many of these ferries are older and have been in service for a long time. Newer fast ferries are joining the fleet all the time but it’s hard to find enough funding to fully replace the older vessels.

In addition to investing in new ships, a number of ferry companies have taken environmental measures. For example, some have abolished plastic straws and bags on board. Others have installed exhaust gas purification systems to reduce emissions. Minoan lines, for example, has even gone so far as to make its ferries completely carbon neutral.

During the summer season, the Greek islands are lively holiday destinations where tourists come to relax on beautiful beaches and enjoy genuine hospitality. But in the winter, these picturesque islands are almost deserted. Smaller islands tend to have fewer hotels, taverns and souvenir shops. It’s important to keep in mind that a trip to the islands in the winter requires advance planning and booking your ferry tickets well in advance.

Taking a ferry to the Greek islands is an excellent option, but it is always advisable to plan ahead and book your ticket in advance. This way, you can be sure of a spot on your preferred ferry and avoid waiting in long lines. Also, remember that meltemi winds (strong seasonal winds) can affect services, especially on the longer routes and overnight trips.

How Does the Greek Ferry Industry Make Money?

Despite its size and reliance on foreign visitors, the Greek ferry industry does not make much money. Ferries are expensive to operate with fuel accounting for 50-60 percent of a ship’s costs. Fuel prices have doubled over the past year. In addition, bank debt has dried up and interest rates have spiked. This has pushed up operating costs and, for the first time in years, many companies are struggling to pay their crews.

Fortunately for passengers, this means there are more boats and routes to choose from. Blue Star Ferries, for example, now has a fleet of more than 20 ships ranging from state-of-the-art catamarans to older conventional ferries. The company also offers a handy smartphone app to track your vessel’s progress from Mykonos to Milos.

Other operators are adding high speed ferries to their fleets too. The Aeolis Express shown above is like a giant speed boat and revolutionized island transportation in Greece. However, it did not stop the company’s debt problems and they went bankrupt. But its big beautiful highspeeds have paved the way for newer faster boats to join the fleet.

The future of the Greek ferry industry looks bright. Sustainability and technological advances will boost efficiency and elevate the passenger experience. But it will require innovation and determination to overcome challenges in financing and competition.

What is the Greek Ferry Industry Like Today?

With new fast ships joining the fleet and older ones being retired, it is a pretty good time to travel to the Greek islands by ferry. But it is still important to look for early booking offers and find reliable schedules months in advance as some ferries sell out quickly during the summer season.

There are dozens of companies that operate ferries in Greece. Large ferries like Blue Star Lines and Hellenic Seaways gobble up the most popular routes leaving other smaller companies with older boats having to settle for less popular routes.

But there are also a handful of small ferries that have a niche in their markets and offer great value for money. For example, the small company Speedrunner III operates three conventional ferries that connect Piraeus, certain Cyclades islands and Heraklion in Crete. They are not as comfortable as the bigger ferries but they do have cabin options and offer vehicle capacity.

In addition, there are two other ferry companies operating highspeed ferries that offer much faster travel times between popular destinations. Nova Ferries and 2way Ferries are both running four ferries on routes to the Saronic Gulf, Argosaronic islands, Northeastern Aegean Islands, and Crete. These ferries are not as comfortable as the big conventional ferries but they are great value for money and are more likely to run on schedule.