Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the British Marine Equipment Council (FUS 29)

  I wish to place on record the British Marine Equipment Council's support for the work going on under the Deputy Prime Minister's initiative concerning the British Shipping industry.

  While the British Merchant Fleet and British Shipbuilding are no longer the dominant forces they once were in world terms, the United Kingdom still has a strong and, in a number of cases, world-leading involvement in the maritime businesses of shipping, marine equipment, shipyards and ports. All these are very much businesses of the future, given that World seaborne trade is forecast by the World Bank and others to increase by 50 per cent over the next seven years, and to double by the year 2021.

  This expansion will bring huge opportunities not just for shipping companies, but also for all the industries and services which support shipping operations. As Director-General of BMEC, a federation of four Trade Associations—the British Marine Equipment Association (BMEA), the British Naval Equipment Association (BNEA), the Association of Offshore British Industries (ABOI), the British Oil Spill Control Association (BOSCA), plus an affiliated Ports and Terminals Group (PTG)—and as such representing suppliers of equipment and services in all sectors of the industries involving naval and merchant ships (including fishing vessels), ports and terminals, offshore oil and gas, and pollution prevention, control and clean-up, I view this as a window of opportunity for the marine equipment sector and the UK maritime industry in general, not to be missed.

  BMEC works closely with the Chamber of Shipping and the Shipbuilders and Shiprepairers Association and is a co-signatory to the tripartite agreement whereby British owners have undertaken to give British shipyards and equipment suppliers the opportunity of tendering for their newbuilding orders, and where unsuccessful, to give constructive feedback as to the reasons why.

  That said, given today's cut-throat competition in the shipping industry worldwide, every UK shipowner is looking at all ways to reduce costs. Many, even those traditionally loyal to British shipbuilders and suppliers, now consider much more carefully all the alternative options open to them before deciding where to build their new ships or send existing vessels for repair. Frequently, they decide, particularly as far as newbuildings are concerned, that for sound commercial reasons, they must order from abroad. Such a decision would be much less likely were there to be stronger political backing for the UK shipping industry than has been the case in recent years. This would undoubtedly encourage greater togetherness within the UK's maritime community—i.e., greater co-operation and mutual support between shipowners, shipyards, suppliers and even ports —as has developed in some of our principal European competitors, Norway and The Netherlands for example, following political support initiatives by their respective governments.

  The contribution to the Exchequer by the UK maritime industry as a whole, including invisibles from the City, insurance, ship broking and the like, is reckoned to be some £4 billion annually—a not insignificant sum. Without a strong Shipping industry much of this would wither away. Regrettably the downward trend has already started.

  Another frequently ignored benefit, difficult to quantify in money terms but of great importance, is that ships provide a "university of the sea" for youngsters in their late teens and the quality of their training stands them in good stead later in life when they come ashore and seek employment in the shore-based maritime industries. A study in 1996 by Cardiff University, commissioned by the British Government, identified 17,000 jobs in more than 25 shore-based sectors which needed to be filled by ex-seafarers, mainly officers with a Captain's or Chief Engineer's certificate. The study expressed the view that other forms of training were either not cost-effective or would involve quality loss in the industries where sea experience is highly desirable if not essential. Here again, the trend is unremittingly downward. Not enough youngsters are coming forward to train as cadets for either the seaman side or as engineers. Without a strong British Fleet the incentive to do so is not there.

  The BMEC position is to support wholeheartedly anything which can be done to strengthen the position of British Shipping. A strong British Shipping industry has to be good news for the British Shipbuilding and Marine Equipment industries also. Strong recommendations for Government support to regenerate British Shipping are looked for from the Transport Sub-Committee.

B H E Tayler


11 December 1998

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