Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320
WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001
JOHN A GOOD
320. On the point of Europeans receiving aid
where British ports do not, is that not causing an imbalance in
the use of port facilities?
(Mr Everard) We would argue yes, but it is not up
to us as ship owners. I am sure it is unfair as between ports
but it is not necessarily unfair for us as ship owners.
321. You are getting the advantages; we understand
(Mr Everard) Yes.
(Mr Good) May I just comment, representing port agents.
Certainly the effect of hidden subsidies on continental ports
is a major factor and has been for many years in that we know
that vessels which would or could come to a UK port choose to
unload in Antwerp and then cargo is transhipped across or even
sent across by trailers. It is a major factor that some of the
major continental ports can undercut British ports. It is getting
better now because the efficiencies of British ports have improved
so much that it is getting closer and certainly some owners are
now looking again at calling direct at UK ports. However, it is
still a factor.
322. Would the European Ports Directive not
be an opportunity to look at this question?
(Mr Astbury) Yes, it is. The proposed European Ports
Directive is part of a package. Another element of that package
is a proposal on transparency. The Commission having studied long
and hard came to the conclusion that they could not honestly find
out what subsidies were going on in European ports. They have
in parallel with the proposed Ports Services Directive announced
proposals to move forward the question of transparency at least
to the point of being able to establish an inventory of requirements
while leaving their application applicable to the normal state
aids regime within the EU.
323. This is obviously quite important. We have
asked the question of other witnesses this afternoon. Between
you, for different reasons, you seem quite certain that state
aids are being applied in the rest of the European Union. What
evidence do you have and what research have you done to justify
those claims and may we see that evidence and research please?
(Mr Astbury) It was in the EU Commission's Green Paper
on ports published three years ago now. There was some evidence
which illustrated examples of where there was indeed public provision
of infrastructure, which one might also call state aids. They
went away to try to establish further evidence of that. They failed
to be able to complete that, partly I suspect because not all
Member States cooperated fully in the process, and therefore were
planning something to do about it. That is not to say that all
these state aids are illegal, because most of them have been advanced
on the basis of creating public infrastructure within a framework
which makes them acceptable. There are arguments to be had as
this proceeds but the Commission is at least trying to do something
to establish the facts now.
324. I am more interested in whether your organisations
have evidence and have researched this issue.
(Mr Everard) No. It is much more really for the ports
to come up with something. We have not.
325. Yes, I understand that but is the answer
yes or no.
(Mr Astbury) No, we have not done any research.
326. NUMAST has given us evidence that the port
safety committees are there but the most important people, that
is the users of the port, are rarely represented. Is that the
case? Do you concur with that?
(Mr Astbury) I do not know, is the answer.
327. You do not know.
(Mr Astbury) No, I do not know, neither have I had
any complaints from our members that they should have had greater
328. It is not always the same thing, is it?
(Mr Astbury) No, it is not indeed.
(Mr Everard) As the Chamber of Shipping we are mainly
looking at getting in and out of ports and arriving on the berth.
It is very difficult for us to say what is going on inside the
329. Nevertheless you would obviously have some
concern about the people who are servicing your vessels.
(Mr Everard) Definitely.
(Captain Bligh) In support of the comments made by
NUMAST, there is a problem in many ports where our ships call
in that the infrastructure for the ships' staff to leave the vessel
is not very good and could be considered in some areas to be "unsafe"
because the port is built very much around the structure of discharging
the cargo and it does tend to keep seafarers slightly captive
to their own environment.
330. NUMAST were arguing that there is a discrimination
between the safety approach and regime on board and that on dry
land. Would you agree with that general view?
(Captain Bligh) That is too sweeping a statement.
I do not think there is a discrimination. I think the interests
of the two sides are slightly different in that the ship owner
is asking the port for higher and higher productivity and the
ways the ports can do this is by using their facilities to their
utmost. Consequently they do put services in place to allow the
mariner to leave his vessel, but it is at the convenience of the
ports and not necessarily the convenience of the mariner himself.
You get this slight conflict. They are not put in any context
at a lower level, it is just that the flexibility is not offered
331. What demand is there from shipping companies
to provide their own port services and which services would they
like to provide?
(Captain Bligh) I would not like to try to answer
(Mr Everard) It is very different to look at what
is happening in the UK than at what is happening in the rest of
Europe. There is not an enormous demand in the UK because we have
so many ports dotted around the place that there is fair competition.
If you really want to do something you can usually negotiate with
somebody. It is not an enormous problem in the UK.
332. Is there any evidence that ports have sought
to prevent shipping companies from doing so?
(Mr Good) If an operator or an owner wants to set
up his own facilities, if he has sufficient throughput, if the
port wants to keep the customer, he will see his way to providing
or negotiating with the requirement of the owner and that has
happened in certain quarters.
(Mr Everard) It has not been a problem which has been
highlighted to us in the UK. It can be a problem elsewhere.
(Captain Bligh) My own company is presently setting
up a port infrastructure in the Netherlands under its own right.
333. In Europort or elsewhere?
(Captain Bligh) Yes, in Europort.
334. Why is it more attractive to do it in the
Netherlands than to do it in the United Kingdom?
(Captain Bligh) Opportunity.
335. What opportunity does Rotterdam offer?
(Captain Bligh) For us at the moment it is the building
of a deep water berth for our larger newer ships, that there will
be sufficient water there to bring them into port, which is not
available at the moment in UK ports.
336. Is it in any UK port?
(Captain Bligh) No.
(Mr Everard) You do have an investment in Southampton
and London though in port facilities.
(Captain Bligh) Our parent company does but as P&O
Nedlloyd we are investing in other ports within Europe.
337. May I ask you about the United Kingdom's
attitude towards the European Commission's concerns and the Directive
on pilotage? Do you feel that the United Kingdom is pushing hard
enough for a clear protection for those interests we have?
(Mr Astbury) It is a little early to be able to answer
the question though we should love to be able to in that the proposals
have not been out very long and the Government is presumably in
the process of assessing them and will we hope be in the process
of consulting the various interests.
338. The difficulty is that everybody implies,
rather tactfully, that there are some difficulties with this particular
Directive. Do you want to tell us what those difficulties are
even if you can afterwards deny it? Everything is subject to deniability.
(Mr Astbury) I shall try to help with at least the
areas in the Directive on which there may be a variety of views
and which may turn out to be controversial. It is going to be
more difficult to use our comments as the considered view of the
shipping industry, so I hope they will not be taken that way.
339. You have put in your caveat beautifully.
Point taken. I still ask you: where are the areas of difficulty?
(Mr Astbury) The difficulties arise because the European
port industry is a very diverse one and it has developed in different
countries in different ways. It is undoubtedly true that there
is scope for considerably greater efficiency and competition,
both between ports and in the provision of services in ports and
that competition has in many parts of Europe been strongly resisted
for decades. As a result therefore of pressure from shipowners
amongst others, the Commission has at last come to grapple with
the difficult question of how they might get a higher level of
competition, efficiency, flexibility, all those things. In the
UK we happen to have grappled with some of those questions over
the last couple of decades already all by ourselves. The UK ports
in many respects are ahead of the game. In trying to find an EU
policyan EU policy in a sense has to be a one-size-fits-all
type of legislative frameworkthey are coming at it in a
way which will not entirely match the way we have gone in the
past. The implications of that are exactly what are being studied
at the moment. You have taken evidence from the port organisations
about that. We are not ready to have a definitive view about that
yet but we do recognise that there are difficulties in the UK
about some aspects of the approach, particularly in relation to