The UK is on a dangerous course
The UK is on a “dangerous course” said Mark Dickinson, general secretary of Nautilus International in a talk at the Houses of Parliament last week. Hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Maritime and Ports Group on the UK’s shipping policy or rather, lack of it, Mr Dickinson said that despite appearances, governmental policy was chipping away at the foundations of the UK’s industry.
Along with a lack of coherency and detrimental tax regimes, there have also been deep cuts to maritime safety. Training and coastguard budgets have been slashed, there is the likely loss of the Marine Incident Response Group and uncertainty over the search and rescue helicopter service.
Mr Dickinson said, “The waters around the UK are not only busier with increased commercial and leisure traffic but face increasing navigational hazards as a result of offshore oil and gas activities, renewable energy developments and the acknowledged increased frequencies of extreme weather conditions. At the same time, global and regional seaborne trade has expanded dramatically and merchant shipping operations have been transformed in the past 25 years.
“Bigger and faster ships present a whole range of new challenges in terms of monitoring and regulation, and dramatic accidents such as the Braer, Sea Empress, Erika and Prestige have not only raised political and public expectations but also driven radical new regulatory requirements that directly impact upon the duties and responsibilities of the MCA.”
Mr Dickinson said that it was disturbing that the current coastguard proposals are driven as much by financial pressures as by the need for modernisation. “Given the huge potential costs, environmental damage and loss of life that can arise as a result of maritime accidents, it makes economic sense for adequate investment in the MCA to ensure the safe and efficient operations of all shipping running in and out of UK ports”, he added.
Equally, Nautilus sees no reason to justify the proposed removal of the Emergency Towing Vessels, which provide crucial salvage back-up in the event of shipping accidents.
The doubts around the future of all of these important services raises serious questions about the UK’s commitment to maritime safety and certainly raises legitimate questions about its future ability to discharge many of the functions it has historically had responsibility for.
Mr Dickinson pointed out the UK’s commitment to its international obligations is also lacking. The country is falling foul of a number of important maritime policies and is in danger of losing its lead in the sector. Its tonnage tax is being implemented in a way detrimental to business, and while there’s much talk about cutting carbon emissions and greening transport policy, it is simply not backed up.
The freight facilities grant has gone and volumes of freight being carried on water are going back to levels last seen 10 to 15 years ago.
“Over the past year the government has sent out mixed messages about its approach to the maritime sector, a dangerous strategy”, concluded Mr Dickinson.
Source: Maritime Journal