Lloyd’s List – Is the EU here to help?

(Written by Michael Grey)

25 March 2013 - Brussels bossiness targets Europe’s shipping and port sectors

WHAT is it about Brussels? Is it that the left doesn’t know what the right is doing, in a perfect example of disjointed government? Is there some agenda been prescribed in some windowless committee room by officials who have a down on the maritime industry? Might it be that all the levers of power are being wielded by Greens who get out of bed each morning thinking of how best they can damage our industry?

I haven’t a clue whether any of these explanations is more accurate than any other, but there seems to be an accumulation of bossiness  directly aimed at the shipping and port sectors and which, if all is implemented ,will clearly harm them.

We have the sulphur regulations which, because all the alternatives are too difficult, too costly, or too far in the distance will, according to the UK Chamber of Shipping, drive a sizeable chunk of sea-hauled freight back onto the roads.

The chamber was just the latest to point this out, the European Community Shipowners’ Association and Interferry, BIMCO and the International Chamber of Shipping having already underlined how harmful these regulations will be if they are implemented prematurely.

But all this evidence has been in vain, Commission, Council and Parliament giving an excellent impression of the Three Wise Monkeys, exhibiting total intransigence, something of which they have a great deal of practice.

Then there is the Clean Fuel for Transport Package, a fine piece of Eurobossiness that would oblige, rather than encourage, all main seaports of Europe to provide shore power for “cold ironing” and refuelling points for liquefied natural gas for both seagoing and inland ships.

If you are a green of leftist persuasion, who sits in a comfortable office and enjoys the company of like-minded folk around European Union committee tables, it takes a moment to draft some dictat, without the slightest idea of its consequences.

How many kilometres of quayside are there in the gigantic ports of mainland Europe — how many berths to be served in such a manner? Has there been any exploration of the costs to the ports that must comply, if this “package” — how innocuous it sounds — is to be firmed up into directives and ultimately into national law?

Sure, it is a great idea to provide such facilities, as long as they are practical and there is an identifiable need, rather than a desire to keep up with the Californians and trying to be greener than they are.

But most of these big ports did not get big and successful by sitting back and letting politicians work out what is best for them; they give their customers what they want and more, paying due attention to the market.

If there is money to be made bunkering ships with LNG or plugging them into mains electricity, the market will provide it.

The European Sea Ports Organisation, which has the best possible handle on what is going on along Europe’s waterfronts, suggests politely that these facilities should be provided “only where this actually makes sense”.

Force this down people’s throats and there is a risk of creating unused or under-used facilities.

Maybe Espo should arrange a visit to the ultra-green city of Brighton, where the council’s lavish provision of charging points for electric cars sees them chiefly used as roosts for seagulls. But doubtless the agenda, which at some future date will compel ships to use these facilities, is even now being considered.

This coming week will also see the European Parliament do its level best to shaft the competitiveness of European ports with its outrageous plan to tax all ships to provide a fund for the “conscious recycling” of ships.

Bolted onto the commission’s mad plan for a regulation on ship recycling. This aims to gold plate and anticipate the Hong Kong Convention, requiring a system of survey, certification and authorisation for all ships flying European flags, thus providing a jolly good reason to register somewhere less bossy.

The proposal from a Green MEP would require the ports to levy €0.03 ($0.04) per gross tonne on every ship calling.

Espo secretary-general Patrick Verhoeven points out that while all the ports are working to become more competitive and efficient, here is more euro nonsense calculated to drive traffic away. The Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety votes on this matter on the 26th of this month.

Again there is an agenda, which is to give effect to the policies advocated by those Greens who want to stop all international recycling and rebuild ship demolition facilities in European countries.

This would deny work to the tens of thousands of people on the Indian subcontinent who really do recycle, rather than play with the idea.

“I’m from the EU, I’m here to help”: it used to be a joke.