Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Polly Toynbee's Euro-myopia

A bit of a grubby article from Polly Toynbee here on the matter of exploitation at sea. What's disappointing here is that Polly turns this into a whinge about Brexit. EU good, Britain baaaad.

This is a very serious issue, under-reported and in need of serious attention. Exploitation in this industry is rife - and it extends into fishing as well. The EU has done its usual trick of taking a heavy handed approach to regulation resulting in an overall decline in registered tonnage.

According to studies carried out for the European Commission, the operational costs of a Community registered vessel could be reduced by 3.5 to 22% in the case of a containership and by 15 to 44% for a bulk carrier, by flagging out.

European shipping faces two main threats to its future survival: protectionist policies and high costs of operation that have resulted in reduced market shares and accelerated flagging-out. So all it has done is exported the problem - as it did with ship scrappage.

The fact is that in a hyper globalised sector like shipping regional solutions just aren't going to cut it. The need global regulations and global conventions. That's where we need to be participating fully at all of the top tables in regulation. In this case the International Maritime Organisation and the ILO. Only through coordinated global action can we bring this mass exploitation to an end.

In this we often find the EUs protectionist approach and heavy handedness means it is frequently outvoted and is not a welcome influence at the IMO at all. Britain on the other hand takes the view that it's better to make some progress than none at all.

Free of the EU we are able to increase our participation on global forums and choose our own alliances. In regulatory terms Brexit means we have the right of initiative which means if the unions put sufficient pressure on the government they can press for a global initiative.

Many Guardian readers will be appalled by the conditions of Indian ship breakers and their use of beaching. There is now a set of global guidelines forming the basis of IMO regulations. This was a Norwegian initiative. And in recent times Norway is most famous for... not being in the EU.

In fact, if you're not talking about the IMO in shipping regulations then you are simply playing politics - which is exactly what Polly is doing - turning a very real issue into a convenient hobby horse for her anti-Brexit bigotry. That's a pity because otherwise she would be making a valuable contribution by exploring this issue.

If we really are sincere about tackling this then we really do need to think globally and act internationally and break away from the inward looking Eurocentric approach - which ultimately worsens these problems by exporting them to where there is no regulation at all. Only through much wider participation and consultation do we crack this and Brexit gives us the tools we need to do exactly that.

Figures from the Department of Transport show that in 2015 there was an 8pc increase in the size of the UK-registered trading fleet to 13.7m deadweight tonnes. Of these vessels, almost 58pc were container ships, 19pc tankers and 14pc bulk carriers. The data – which covers ships weighing more than 100 tonnes – revealed an end to four years of decline, with ship operators less likely to register their vessels under so-called “flags of convenience” which have less demanding regulation.

Britain has distinct advantages. Flying the Red Ensign is sign of a well maintained vessel and carries a great deal of prestige on the high seas, as well as offering global protection from the Royal Navy and support from Britain’s consular services. Brexit might well enhance this dynamic meaning preferential insurance terms for UK registered ships. That is where we can start bringing this issue back into our sphere of influence.

Update: the UK Chamber of Shipping has responded to Ms Toynbee...

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