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UK shipowners call for reform of ship register

UK shipowners call for reform of ship register
Speaking at last night’s annual dinner of the UK Chamber of Shipping (CoS), president Tom Boardley called for “real, tangible reform” of the UK Ship Register.

“We need a Ship Register that we can be proud of,” he said. “We need standards to be maintained but levels of customer service to improve substantially. We need an MCA (Maritime & Coastguard Agency) that actively courts business.”

By joining the UK flag there would be knock-on benefits in greater employment of UK seafarers and use of UK-based maritime services, added Boardley, who is also evp of Lloyd’s Register.

Reform of the Ship Register and its separation from the MCA was one of the recommendations of the UK Maritime Growth Study (MGS) drawn up by the UK Government in consultation with industry.

The CoS president welcomed the work already done in implementing the Study’s findings but said more needed to be done. In particular, he called on the Government to double the current level of its funding for the SMART training scheme for UK seafarers – a proposal which drew a spontaneous applause from the 750 diners, the event’s largest number of attendees for a decade.

In reply, UK Shipping Minister Robert Goodwill pointed out that “already the MCA has taken action to separate the Registry from its other functions”, and that a new director of the UK Shipping Register, ex Bibby Line executive Simon Barham, would be joining this month.

Gross tonnage under the UK flag had in fact increased 9% over the last year, there had been small increase in the number of UK seafarers, and a further “efficiency study’ at the MCA was to be undertaken shortly, continued the Minister, stressing “the government’s determination to deliver the changes promised in the MGS.”

However, the CoS has already warned that slight increases - such as in UK seafarer numbers - at time of a growing world fleet in fact mask a relative decline of the UK’s maritime stature.

Sources who Seatrade Maritime News spoke to at the dinner confirmed the view of an MCA that was doing a good job but was severely under-resourced, and of a UK Ship Register that could be “overly prescriptive” at times, in “unreconstructed civil service vein”. Instead the Register needed to take leaf out of the book of other Red Ensign flags like the Isle of Man and become “more owner receptive,” was one typical view.