What do the people of Chania prefecture think about the upcoming drilling for gas and oil?
For several years now, the Cretans have heard that the island's sea is hiding important hydrocarbon deposits. Within a few months, they will learn if this is the case, as research begins west and southwest of Crete.
In Paleochora, Chania, the locals appear skeptical and ask for information from the state. Stelios Gialnakis, chairman of the fishermen of the region, is concerned about environmental protection, but also about fish stocks.
"If this activity hurts the environment, surely our tourism will also be hit. As you understand this is very important for our region. We, as professionals, are wondering what to do with the fish. Inventories have declined significantly in recent years. We can not accept another blow. They must inform us. Let the officials come here and explain what will happen and what are the next steps in this process," says Stelios Galinakis.
The 63-year-old fisherman is afraid that in a few years he will not be able to supply the fish market in Paleochora with fresh fish.
A few yards from the fish shop, Aristea Pitsaki wonders if tourists will continue to choose their restaurant to try chicken with potatoes and fresh meatballs. The 60-year-old businesswoman has 6 employees and is thinking of hiring others, but she is worried about the course of tourism. She estimates that, in a few years, tourists in their minds will combine Crete with drilling.
"I'm afraid, I'm worried about those seismic investigations that they say they'll do. Will not these things affect our environment and our sea? We live from the tourism. If it is good for it, do it, but not to destroy all that we have built over these years. We work hard, work with so many families, we have responsibilities and we love our place", argues Aristea Pitsaki in front of the euronews camera.
Manolis Klironomakis is the president of the Paleochora businessmen. He has rooms to let and a tourist shop.
The 61-year-old man claims that the local community should have been questioned before the agreement was signed. Now, we simply have to talk about a closed case. Manolis Klironomakis is skeptical, does not reject the investment, but always has in mind an accident.
"I'm afraid of an accident. That makes me worry. Can anyone exclude it? This would have devastating consequences for our country. I still think you can not combine industry and tourism. You can not expect revenues from drilling, oil or whatever else, and at the same time expecting tourists to choose Crete for the sea and its natural beauties. I think these two do not combine," says Manolis Klironomakis.
The Region of Crete understands the concerns of the citizens. But they weighed the pros and cons and eventually decided to say "yes" to the research on hydrocarbons. Local authorities note that environmental protection is a priority and all necessary measures are taken.
"This project is a great investment opportunity not only for Crete but also for the whole country. This is all the more serious if you think that Greece has experienced a major economic crisis in recent years. We understand the concerns, we weighed the data and decided to say 'yes'. We have done what is feasible to minimize the risks. However, I would like to say that in many parts of the world drilling is taking place next to large tourist resorts. Many of them are much more famous than Crete. Acapulco is very close to the Gulf of Mexico where a major accident happened. Bali in Indonesia is also a good example," says Nikos Kalogeris, vice-governor of Crete, Environment and Spatial Planning at Euronews.
The ecological initiative of Chania is against the project and argues that Crete should turn to renewable energy sources. It also argues that many countries "get off" from the fossil fuel and oil trains around the world, while Greece chooses to climb on it. [News of today: oil and gas are on their way back, and 5 billion Euro are now needed for cleaning up the North Sea oil and gas platforms]
"Why are we trying to repeat the mistakes of others? Why are we risking and accepting the possibility of an accident that will destroy our nature and hurt tourism from and on which Crete lives? We are threatening our fish stocks and our environment. Who does not understand this? We believe that the decision of the Region of Crete is wrong and that it does not have the support of the local community," says Fotis Pontikakis, member of the Ecological Initiative of Chania.
"After signing the lease agreement in Athens, the Cretans are trying to understand if and how research on hydrocarbons will affect their lives and their place. The debate has begun, but it will surely intensify as soon as the first drill rigs appear in the middle of the sea" , the euronews reporter Apostolos Staikos broadcasts from Paleochora Chania.