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Rather a bumpy playing field for shortsea shipping

Rather a bumpy playing field for shortsea shipping
Few would argue with the virtues of moving more freight off congested and polluted road networks and on to environmentally friendly shortsea shipping routes

Most would applaud the spirit of the European Union’s “Blue Belt” initiative, which aims to simplify maritime transport regulations and processes, in order to create a level playing field between all transport modes. Less form-filling and simpler customs formalities? Yes please.

Cutting red tape, sharing information and not reinventing the wheel were the central themes at the European Port Community Systems Association’s (EPCSA) annual conference, held recently in Civitavecchia, Italy.

The conference, entitled ‘Intelligent Exchange: Data Exchange for Smooth Maritime & Logistics Processes’, brought policymakers and industry professionals together to debate such issues as EU Directive 2010/65 on ships’ reporting formalities; this Directive requires that by next June (2015), all member states must accept electronic reports via a ‘Single Window’.

In fact, there is much debate about whether all member states will be able to achieve what’s required within the timeframe. In addition, there’s concern amongst members of EPCSA that European policymakers do not really understand what port community systems do and therefore there is a danger of Europe duplicating effort.

“Although we need simplification, we need to make sure we don’t reinvent the wheel and throw away what we have already got,” EPCSA chairman Alan Long, of Felixstowe-based Maritime Cargo Processing (MCP), said recently.

In his presentation at the conference, Admiral Piero Pellizzari, representing the Italian Coast Guard, emphasised that a range of issues still need to be agreed at EU level in order to meet the Single Window goal. Above all, he said: “The implementation deadline must not be an obstruction to what should be achieved – simplification and harmonisation.”

Jukka Savo, policy officer, eMaritime, DG MOVE, pulled out some impressive figures. “We know that [European] sea traffic is expected to increase to roughly 1.9m port calls by 2025, while now it is 1.5m. Volumes of containers are expected to increase from 85m teu in 2007 to 145m teu in 2025,” he said. “Another challenge is the increasing size of ships.”

We have to make sure ports do not become bottlenecks, which could push freight back to other modes, said Savo. Top priorities include port service optimisation, better integration of sea transport with the multimodal chain, and the reduction of the regulatory burden, with barriers within Europe eliminated.

The irony, then, is that another set of EU regulations could just reverse it all and push thousands more trucks back on to Europe’s roads.

Shipping companies have said they need more time to comply with the European Sulphur Directive, which requires that from January 2015, ships sailing in the Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) covering the Baltic Sea, North Sea and Channel must use fuels with a sulphur content of 0.1% or lower – or, alternatively, install scrubbers.

The European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) has called for implementation of these rules to be “harmonised and realistic”.

“The shipping industry is faced with a number of legal and technical uncertainties, which the Commission and member states need to address if they hope to lend shipowners a helping hand in preparing for the 1 January 2015 deadline,” it has said in a statement.

ECSA secretary general Patrick Verhoeven said: “Member states and the Commission need to clarify without delay how they intend to apply and harmonise enforcement policies. This, however, cannot be to the detriment of competitiveness. Establishing legal certainty about proper compliance and enforcement together with a fair level playing field between shipping operators and between transport modes are therefore a must.”

In Britain, shipowners have warned that shifting to low-sulphur fuel will lead to a 30% rise in costs for passengers and freight, the loss of 2,000 jobs, £300m in additional costs to shipping operators, and the arrival of thousands more lorries on Britain’s roads, generating 12m tonnes of additional CO2 emissions.

It could take two years to fit the necessary technology to all their ships, they say, urging the British government to insist that the EU ‘allow pragmatic transitional arrangements’.

Here, perhaps, the sentiments expressed by Admiral Pellizzari deserve repeating: “The implementation deadline must not be an obstruction to what should be achieved.”

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