UK shipping industry calls for reforms to the red ensign

Athens: Major reforms must be made to the red ensign to make the nation’s shipping register more competitive with its international rivals, according to a new report published by the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency and other major UK shipping organisations.

The UK should aim to be “the flag of choice for quality owners” and “large, dynamic, international and highly influential”, the organisations say.

The number of UK-registered ships is currently at its lowest level since 2006 and has fallen by a third during the last five years, according to figures from the UK’s Department of Transport (DfT).

The UK fell from 16th to 20th place in the list of the world’s largest ship registries in 2014, decreasing by 17% in terms of deadweight tonnage on its 2013 level.

“The UK is entirely reliant on the shipping industry, but the UK flag will die unless substantial reforms are delivered. The UK is a world leader in maritime services, and it has the skill and ingenuity to maintain its position for generations to come – but the days of tinkering with the administrative process are gone. In a fiercely competitive global environment, we now need fundamental change to reverse the decline before it is too late,” said Guy Platten, the UK Chamber of Shipping’s chief executive.

“Shipping companies invest heavily in the UK and contribute billions to GDP and the Exchequer. They can choose to do business anywhere in the world and they have the right to strong customer service and a regulator that actively supports them.

“Numerous shipowners around the world have told me that they will join the UK flag if reforms are delivered. It shows there is demand and goodwill, and with the right political will we can make the most of the opportunity.”

The new report says barriers to the attractiveness of the UK Shipping Register are caused both by what it has to offer, and how it is delivered. The UK flag is capable of competing on quality and cost, yet is failing on service levels, the document states.

The report’s panel of author organisations recommend that ownership registration criteria be reviewed with a view to widening the UK’s potential market, “without reducing the quality of the offer”.

The panel suggests the registry should aim to attract and maintain a register of 2% of world tonnage (around 30m gross tonnes, based on current world fleet growth forecast) to be under the UK Flag by 2020.

“A strong UK Flag supports the £10bn UK maritime sector. But in the last few years, the UK has lost over half its global market share. We believe with decisive action the Government can turn this around,” said Robin Mortimer, chief executive of the Port of London Authority and chairman of the independent panel.

The full report can be read here.


Holly Birkett

Holly is Splash's Online Editor and correspondent for the UK and Mediterranean. She has been a maritime journalist since 2010, and has written for and edited several trade publications. She is currently studying for membership of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. In 2013, Holly won the Seahorse Club's Social Media Journalist of the Year award. She is currently based in London.
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