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Hundreds of Greek seamen unpaid for months

Wednesday - 3/27/2013, 8:32am  ET

Apostolos Banasis, treasurer of the sailors' union, sits on the dock in the main Greek port of Piraeus, on Friday, March 1, 2013. With the financial crisis hitting Greek coastal shipping hard, Banassis said hundreds of crewmen for ferries have gone unpaid for months. Many end up living on board the ships while they wait to get paid. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ELENA BECATOROS
Associated Press

DRAPETSONA, Greece (AP) -- 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 -- many of whom had been going unpaid -- 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
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