Greek shipowners asked to contribute in new austerity package

A new austerity package that Greece should vote on late Wednesday night includes a provision that forces shipowners, long accused of enjoying lavish fiscal privileges, to pony up at least 140 million euros.

Having at first gone by largely unnoticed in the 400-page draft that was introduced to parliament late on Monday, the provision initially called for a "voluntary" contribution to the state coffers, from a sector that has strong political influence.

But Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras withdrew the word "voluntary" following demands by the socialist party Pasok, the main junior partner in the coalition government led by conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

According to the revised document, an agreement between the Greek government and the Greek shipping community will determine "the means of payment and the sum that the community will contribute for the support of the national economy, the minimum amount being 140 million euros ($178.6 million)."

It is the first time that such a contribution is imposed on Greek shipowners, according to a source from the merchant marine minis try.

Greek shipowners, who enjoy major fiscal privileges, have often been accused of lacking solidarity with their fellow citizens who are entering their sixth year of recession and face another wave of drastic government spending cuts.

Similar accusations have come from Greece's EU-IMF creditors. In October, the European Commission asked Athens for details on the tax regime for shipwoners, which is based on tonnage and does not take profits or revenue into account.

Greek shipowners are leaders in their sector internationally, but only about a third of their fleet sails under the Greek flag.

Recently, the prime minister met with representatives of the shipowners's union and asked them to support the country "at this difficult moment."

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