There’s usually no shortage of takers for the journey from Chora Sfakion to the tiny island of Gavdos, nearly fifty kilometres off the coast of Crete.
With less than fifty permanent residents and encompassing only thirty-six square kilometres, Gavdos achieved an almost mythic status in recent years as the last ‘undiscovered’ island retreat in Greece, largely untouched by mass tourism. The Samaria and Daskalogiannis ferries have plied this route for the past eight years and have been Gavdos’ lifeline, bringing business and economic growth to one of Greece’s most isolated communities. But not this summer.
Just as the tourist season began, the implementation by the Greek government of European Union directive 9818 for marine transport safety, meant that the only two ferries capable of carrying hundreds of visitors at a time, were at a stroke, prevented from operating the route.
The EU’s directive came into force on July 2 and has remained in place ever since, despite a loophole in the legislation which would have allowed the government, if it had wished, to exclude Gavdos, albeit temporarily, because of its special circumstances. The government feared one rule for Gavdos and another for other islands might set a difficult precedent. Overnight tourist visitors to Gavdos dropped by eighty per cent from the same time last year, with the small boat from Palaiochora being the only means for foot passengers to make the voyage. In short, the 2010 tourist season in Gavdos has been a disaster.
“Visitors to my accommodation have dropped by fifty per cent” says George Papadakis, owner of the Princess Apartments in the island’s tiny capital of Kastri. “The mayor of Gavdos went to Athens to ask the government to do something but nothing happened “ explains Papadakis. “I’m very disappointed. People ask me if they can come in the wintertime and I have to say – I just don’t know.”
Ioannis Braoudakis, Executive Director of ANENDYK Marine – the ferry operator, says that the company has done its utmost to remedy the situation, but that responsibility for a solution has to be shared with the government. “The directive allowed exclusions, but the government didn’t want to do this. We could have avoided the whole situation.”
At the core of a future solution is ANENDYK’s offer to transfer a larger ferry in its fleet to operate the route, but that can only happen if and when the government undertakes work to deepen the entrances to the harbours at Karave, the port of Gavdos and Sfakia, allowing the larger ship to dock. “It’s not a big deal of money to complete the work,” says Braoudakis.
“100,000 Euros would do it. We’re now trying to convince the government and the local authority to make this decision quickly, but..” he adds ominously “you know how bureaucracy works in Greece.”
With ANENDYK committed to providing a new ferry for the Gavdos-Sfakia route, the onus is now squarely on the government to ensure that both ports in question are up to the job. The ferry problem is just the latest challenge facing Gavdos.
Fifteen years ago the island became the focal point of a confrontation between Greece and Turkey, when Turkey suggested Gavdos’ sovereignty was in question. Immediately the Greek government began implementing a €1.5 million plan for Gavdos’ development and further infrastructural improvement was financed by the European Union. It was Homer who described Gavdos as ‘a world apart’. Twenty seven centuries later it’s still a very apt description.