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Coastal challenges and shortsea shipping

Coastal challenges and shortsea shipping
The oversupply of ships, the costs of compliance with the Ballast Water Management Convention, the increasing administrative burden, bunker prices and Brexit add up to challenging times for coastal and shortsea shipping, said Gilbert de Bock, general manager of the Dutch shipowning company De Bock Maritime.

Assessing the future outlook for coastal shipping at the British Port Association’s (BPA) annual conference in Poole, de Bock said: “There is a declining [cargo] share of shortsea shipping in intra-EU transport; this was at 40% in the 1990s but is at 33% now. Dry and liquid bulks are both declining, although ro-ro and lo-lo have shown growth.”

Most of the smaller shortsea vessels calling into the UK are Dutch-flagged, he said. “The first challenge is the oversupply of ships. In general, the EU economy is growing again but nevertheless as shipowners we don’t feel it because there are too many ships. A lot of ships should be scrapped.

“This is being done at some level but generally most owners just keep sailing and hope for better times. Some have gone bankrupt but that doesn’t help because the ships get sold and the overtonnage remains the same.”

Many owners are holding off investments to comply with the ballast water regulations – partly because there is no finance available but also because the lack of clarity over which technologies are acceptable, he said. “Luckily, the ships have up to a maximum of five years to invest in these systems.”

Next, he highlighted the administrative burden and the “big mess” of the EU’s Maritime Single Window regulations. “What is the biggest reason seafarers quit their job before 30? It used to be because they were away from their families. Now number one is the administrative burden – they feel they are doing an office job on a ship.”

De Bock said further consolidation in the sector is expected. Most operators are hoping that 2020 will be better, “but for now, we have to survive”.

Meanwhile, due to the almost complete halt in newbuilding projects, the average age of the fleet is going up. “It was six years in 2008 in the Netherlands – now it is up to 10 to 12. Newbuilding is required but shipowners struggle with finance after nine years of low freight rates, and there is also the issue of capital availability.”