12 September 2017

Government Bid to Double Size of UK Shipping Register Increasing Merchant Fleet to 30 Million Tonnes  

Tax Breaks, Royal Naval Protection, Guaranteed Assistance in Foreign Ports All Made Available

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Shipping News Feature UK – No sooner had we published Transport Minister Chris Grayling's comments at the opening of London International Shipping Week (LISW) 2017, criticising them as a smokescreen with nothing to offer the merchant shipping sector, than Shipping Minister John Hayes pipes up he wants to increase the amount of trade carried under the Red Ensign, that is the iconic Red Duster, the flag of Britain's merchant fleet.

Whilst Mr Grayling's speech applied to shipbuilding for the Royal Navy, with a pledge to construct British warships in the UK, Mr Hayes unfortunately makes no promises but does however suggest that the obvious advantages of vessels sailing under the British flag which already exist, consular support for ships in overseas ports and the protection of the Royal Navy, will be supplemented by international tax breaks for the owners.

The government claims that its UK Ship Register team has taken great strides to ensure the Red Ensign is more commercially attractive to a 21st Century shipping community. For instance, the register’s customer account managers are available around the clock to registered vessels, meaning doing business has never been easier. As well as the prestige of flying the world’s most recognisable maritime flag, vessels carrying the Red Duster will benefit from a world class tonnage tax regime and low registration, survey and certification costs with no annual renewal fees.

Overseen by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), the ship register has a reputation for maintaining the highest international standards since it was established by an Act of King George III in 1785. The register shows the size of the UK fleet, measured by the number of vessels and by gross tonnage grew by 11.5% between 2015 and 2017. Thanks to new-build vessels registered from companies such as Atlantic Container Lines, Stena and Stolt Tankers, the UK’s gross tonnage grew from 14,470,895 to 16,067,921 over the last two years. Maritime Minister John Hayes said:

“In Britain’s post Brexit future we will grow the Red Duster, forging new global relationships. Our ship register has a special significance and our flag is of distinct quality. Unfurling the Red Duster shows Britain’s maritime leadership to the world. Once again Britannia rules the waves and the UK will be a dominant maritime force.”

Flying the Duster does actually have some real benefits for conscientious ship operators, it is not just one of the top performing flags on the Paris MoU and Tokyo MoU ‘white lists’ but is included on the US Coastguard’s Qualship 21 initiative. Whilst the ‘flags of convenience’ countries have always been frowned upon by many, particularly the maritime unions, there is always a sense of unease that such vessels are ‘getting away with it’ and, in an ever more regulated world, there is much to be said for the kudos of British registration which still carries some weight.

A sharp reminder on the union standpoint came in a retort to Chris Grayling’s speech yesterday when he looked to employers to increase apprenticeships, without actually saying how they were supposed to achieve this. Speaking from the TUC Congress in Brighton, RMT General Secretary Mick Cash, who also called for a lifting of the pay cap for Royal Fleet Auxiliary staff, many currently in the front line of Hurricane Irma rescue operation said;

"Whilst it is welcome that the Government have responded positively to RMT's campaign for a major increase in ratings apprenticeships it will require action across the industry, and, crucially, trade union involvement, to ensure that these words from Chris Grayling deliver a major increase in ratings jobs.

"The shipping industry certainly needs to train and employ more seafarers but they should be in secure jobs on good conditions and we should seize the opportunity of EU withdrawal to end the scandal of social dumping and the dodging of minimum wage and other core employment regulations.

"If we get this wrong, and if policies aren't rigorously enforced, shipping employers will carry on with their low cost crewing model which has decimated UK seafarer numbers since the 1980's."

Photo: As this wartime poster shows the pedigree of the Red Duster has been a symbol of many things. Despite international ownership it is believed over half the world’s superyachts continue to register in the UK to gain its protection.

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