A relevant shipping ministry official this month said the government will soon debut an online registration platform to finally allow foreign-flagged motor yachts and pleasure craft – specifically, vessels exceeding 35 meters in length – the right to operate charters in Greek waters.

The end of this “mini cabotage” regime was achieved, on paper at least, in a 2022 law, although implementation awaited a ministerial decision that clarified two points: the process of registering such of vessels and how VAT will be applied.

According to Shipping Ministry general secretary Evangelos Kyriazopoulos, such foreign-flagged vessels must receive a “specified period charter permit” in order to conduct voyages in Greek waters, something achieved through registration on the specific platform.

Up until now, only Greek-flagged vessels were able to conduct hired charters beginning at a port in Greece and ending at a port in Greece, essentially a protectionist “cabotage” regime, the latter being a French term describing the transport of goods or passengers between two places in the same country.

A cabotage restriction had for decades prevented foreign-flagged cruise ships – one of the most lucrative forms of maritime tourism – from operating in Greek waters, an obstacle that was finally overcome with bailout-mandated economic liberalizations roughly a decade ago.

While the pleasure craft sector appears to be opening up to foreign-flagged vessels, one prominent restriction is a maximum of 21 days of operation in Greece per year, while operators will also add VAT to rates and forward such remittances to the Greek state.

Several other restrictions are also in place, but sector experts like Michalis Skoulikidis, the president of the Hellenic Marine Tourism Association, say more clarifications are needed to prevent unfair competition.

Conversely, Gina Polemi, the vice president of the Panhellenic Association of Marine Tourism Professionals, says the expected upside from this specific liberalization is more revenue going into state coffers from VAT remittances, as well as an expected fillip for the sector’s associated businesses and suppliers.