By ELENA BECATOROS
DRAPETSONA, Greece (AP) â¿¿ In rain and shrieking wind, the ferry strains at its ropes, the gangplank creaking and scraping against the pier. A sailor on night watch duty huddles over a portable heater at the entrance to the cavernous hull.
For seven months, often under harsh winter conditions, Giorgos Polilogidis has waited for one thing: a paycheck.
A seasoned veteran of the seas, Polilogidis is among hundreds of sailors, mechanics, stewards and others who work on Greek ferries and, according to seamen's unions, have been going unpaid for months at a time.
"If they don't pay me some money," the sailor growls, "I'm stopping tomorrow."
Ferries are the lifeblood of Greece, and not only in the summer tourist season. Many of the nation's more than 100 inhabited islands depend on ferries for supplies of everything from food and medicine to fuel and machinery spare parts, as well as to get agricultural products to urban markets. The sector is so vital that the government in January invoked rarely used emergency powers to force seamen â¿¿ many of whom had been going unpaid â¿¿ back to work after a six-day strike.
Like every other sector in Greece, shipping has been hit hard by the country's financial crisis.
"They kept telling us that the situation would become better but unfortunately after September things got very bad," said deckhand Antonis Pelatis, who joined the crew of one ferry in April and didn't see his first paycheck for 2 Â½ months. Last month, he hit his fifth straight month without pay.
Years of profligate state spending and poor fiscal management have left Greece dependent on international rescue loans from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010. In return for its bailout billions, the country pledged to reform its moribund economy, pushing through waves of austerity measures that slashed pensions and salaries, hiked taxes and left the country mired in a recession so deep and prolonged it has essentially turned into a depression.