A system must be found to mediate disputes between shipping companies and port operators over the cost of doing business, UK Chamber of Shipping CEO Guy Platten said in a speech to the British Ports Association annual conference in Belfast.
“Shipowners, just like commercial ports, are in business to make money – and expect to negotiate with their suppliers in order to secure a good service at a competitive price. Some UK ports are effective monopolies – and I reveal no confidences when I say that there are concerns that this results in them treating shipowners as captive customers,” Platten explained.
The charges levied by ports comprise a significant element of UK shipping’s cost base. And, as we look ahead to the forthcoming competitiveness review, we will be looking at all elements of that cost base. We believe in a free market, and you won’t hear us arguing for controlled prices – but we have little confidence in the statutory safeguard against excessive charges. We believe in customer choice.
But, in parts of the ports industry, it doesn’t exist – and, realistically, it is never going to. And in those circumstances, your customers need protection. Scotland has taken the first steps towards an arbitration process. But this process needs to have teeth, and it must be implemented across the whole of the UK.”
As global business is moving eastwards and seatrade is expected to double by 2033, if the UK is to remain a global maritime power, according to Plattenm it needs “to fight back.”
“To do that, shipping companies are investing – in new ships and new technology. Ports are investing too – in new infrastructure and capability. But we have to do more. And to do that, we need joined up thinking. That means that shipping, ports and government need to work more closely than ever before.”
Platten said that a good start has been made in that direction, as last year, Maritime UK partners entered into the first ever Government-industry strategic partnership for shipping and ports that “has deepened industry influence not just in the Department for Transport, but the Ministry of Defence, Home Office, Treasury, Department for Business and others.”
“We are working with Government to undertake a full review of the UK’s maritime competitiveness – looking at all areas of our maritime offering including the MCA and the UK flag.
It will be a root and branch review, leaving no stone unturned.”
“I think that figure alone gives us the right to a fair hearing in Brussels. And make no mistake, that has an impact on your business too. If the costs of doing business in our waters becomes too high, ports will lose custom.”
Een though well intentioned, Platten says the current regulations are often “cack handed in their implementation. ”
“The second is that often solve one problem in one part of the world, but simply exacerbate problems elsewhere. The third is that they cost a huge amount of money.”
“With all the strategic issues we face, there is no greater threat to our commercial success than timidity and outdated lobbying strategies. We are important industries with major concerns. It’s time to rise to the challenge, ” Platten concluded.