Greek ferry strike causes chaos

Ferry services to Greek islands and Italy have been halted by a 48-hour strike that left thousands of islanders stranded and disrupted holidaymakers' plans at the start of the country's vital tourism season.

Organised to coincide with the Orthodox Easter this Sunday, the strike was called after The Panhellenic Seamen's Federation, PNO, failed to strike a deal with the government over cuts to its members' pension and healthcare schemes. The PNO also claims that many of its members have been left unpaid for months.

The ferry system connects the Greek mainland with its dozens of populated islands dotted around the Aegean and Ionian seas, where thousands of passengers were scheduled to travel on the two days of the strike.

While all the larger islands such as Crete and Santorini have regular airline connections, the ferry strike has had the same impact as a national rail or airline strike on many of the other islands, leaving them with no connection to the mainland at all.

Tourism industry representatives had urged the union to cancel the strike - the latest of a series of industrial actions by the PNO- or shift the dates, describing the potential consequences of the protest as "disastrous".

The government has imposed drastic pay and benefit cuts over the past two years, as the country struggles to contain its high budget deficit.

"Our strike is in progress with 100% participation. Services at all the nation's ports have been suspended," said strike organiser Antonis Dalakogiorgos, speaking at the country's main port of Piraeus, near Athens.

"We will reconsider our position after Easter and take the necessary decisions. There will be new protests if our main demands are not met."

Ahead of the strike, the Greek Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies had warned that tourists were now more likely to cancel island Easter bookings because of the travel uncertainty.

"The (strike) will cause a multitude of problems for islanders as well as Greek and foreign travellers," the association said in a statement.