Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
WEDNESDAY 3 JULY 2002
280. Could you tell us the date of that last
directive that you looked at so that we can see how it developed?
(Mr Lerenius) The date of the last draft?
(Mr Lerenius) It was17 June and, as I say, we have
not seen that version yet.
282. On this issue, how far do you see if safety
will be affected by the directive? The ports have got a pretty
crummy record on safety, have they not?
(Mr Lerenius) It depends on what you compare with.
I think we have improved our safety record quite dramatically
over the last years, which we talked about last time I was here.
I think it is more a general worry. When you fragmentise in a
port it is more difficult to control things. I understand again
that there have been some measures taken in the last draft to
solve that but I have not seen those so maybe our worry is unfounded,
but I need to see the last draft.
283. There are two problems, are there not?
One is that accidents may happen because there are different people
doing different jobs and their safety does not necessarily intermesh?
The other problem is that when someone has an accident it is sometimes
very difficult to apportion blame and that can often cause as
much upset as the accident to people who are trying to pursue
claims on safety grounds?
(Mr Lerenius) I suppose in general that could be a
worry for the future, yes.
284. Do you feel that the Government and ministers
are pursuing the interests of British ports in relation to the
(Mr Lerenius) Yes. As I said, the Department has actually
been very helpful. Remember that in England we have been pretty
much on our own here.
285. The United Kingdom, you mean.
(Mr Lerenius) Sorry. The United Kingdom has been very
much on its own and they have been doing quite a good job in improving
the latest draft, which, as I have said, I have not seen. They
have been instrumental in improving it.
286. I would like now to turn to a question
of pilots in the Humber. Are the pilots now as high quality as
they were before the strike?
(Mr Lerenius) The present service we have put in place
since 8 December last year, if you look at incident rates, safety
records, etc, yes, are very well on a level already with the previous
regime on safety.
287. Are you absolutely certain that that is
so, Mr Lerenius, because there have been some considerable discussions
about the level of safety in the Humber and the expertise of the
people that you have trained?
(Mr Lerenius) Yes, I am certain. Captain Hames can
probably help me out more on the detail but for the moment, yes,
I am certain. We follow this very thoroughly and we have looked
at the incident rates, as I said, and they are pretty much comparable.
288. On the question of containers, where is
the world going? Are we going to end up with some very big container
ships who will not really be able to come into British ports either
because of the size or because there will not be sufficient local
market and therefore most of those really large container ships
are going to go to a European port and we are going simply to
take trans-shipments from them? Is that the way it is going or
are we going to stick with much smaller sized international container
(Mr Lerenius) We are not supposed to comment on an
ongoing inquiry but if we build Dibden that will not be a problem
because then we can handle those ships.
289. Is Dibden the only port amongst the 21
you tell us you own that you imagine will be able to take the
(Mr Lerenius) I do not think we know exactly where
the container shipping lines will go in size because there are
other restrictions here. It is not only to build bigger and bigger
ships. You have to look at the infrastructure, how we handle ships
like that, what sort of congestion you get on shore, etc. That
you should probably ask the container shipping companies. If we
look at the size that we see as a reality we can handle them in
Southampton today too but, as I say, we are running out of capacity.
290. There is an argument that the Government
should have a clear policy and one of the issues for a national
strategy for ports is, are we looking to have a substantial number
of ports which will take relatively small ships, taking trans-shipment
from the continent, or do we need to have one or two very large
ports where there is a huge amount of investment in the port and
in the infrastructure, and we have just been hearing about the
possibilities for improving the rail links? You are not going
to be able to do that for all of them, are you? Are you putting
your money on a lot of ports or concentrating it in a very small
(Captain Chestnutt) I will take both questions in
one if I may. First of all, as my Chief Executive said, we think
that the sorts of ships that we have been describing, the ones
that will use Dibden, are about the maximum realistically in any
sensible time frame. The advantage of handling those sorts of
ships in a few ports is that it gives you the greatest ability
to get boxes to rail. One of the disadvantages of having lots
of smaller ports is that you cannot build decent rail loads in
any sensible time frame. There are many advantages in having large
hub gateway ports.
291. Boxes to rail at Southampton would be rail
to other parts of Europe as well as within the United Kingdom?
(Captain Chestnutt) We do trans-ship
back to Europe but we do it by ship. What tends to happen is that
you will offload a box in Southampton and by a smaller, faster
vessel get it to whichever continental port you wish. We do send
some down to Iberia and indeed we send some to north west Europe.
292. Interestingly, if it were the case that
someone moved in, say, on Falmouth or Milford Haven where there
is not only depth but the ability to expand, or even Scapa Flow,
I have heard, and was seeking to cream off some of your trade,
would that not be a real problem if you had put all of your investment
in the one place?
(Captain Chestnutt) The real answer to that is no
and there are a number of reasons why. Scapa Flow is not very
well rail connected and therefore there are disadvantages to that.
293. No, but they would not seek to do that,
(Captain Chestnutt) Indeed.
294. Scapa Flow for the moment is a slightly
(Captain Chestnutt) The market driven shipping lane
issue, these major ships that are coming from the Far East or
America or wherever, as they are going up the Channel towards
295. So Falmouth and Milford Haven would be
(Captain Chestnutt) No, funnily enough. They are too
far off the Lake. They have been looked at on a number of occasions.
All of these ports, from Portland onwards, towards the west have
been looked and considered and they fail on one of a number of
reasons. It is either distance from the shipping lanes themselves,
and there is a cost to that for the shipping company diverting,
or it is the internal road and rail communications from that port
to the market it serves, and Falmouth is not an easy route to
296. You do not own any of them, do you?
(Captain Chestnutt) We have ports in the West Country.
297. But you do not own the two we are talking
(Captain Chestnutt) No, we do not own the two we are
298. If you are guessing incorrectly you are
going to be in difficulties.
(Captain Chestnutt) If we have got our facts wrong,
yes, we would be in difficulties, but no, we have not.
299. You know you never get it wrong. Thank
you very much, gentlemen.
(Mr Lerenius) Madam Chairman, can I add one thing
to that? Also, if we have our facts right that will mean that
we will contract customers before we bid, which means that we
and the customers would agree on the facts, so we will know basically
before we build the berths if we have our facts right or wrong.
300. And that of course would affect the rate
of your infrastructure investment, would it not, because you are
saying that the only way you could have a signed contract would
be to put the money into that kind of investment, so if someone
else wished to do it the other way you might be a little bit behind
(Mr Lerenius) But if we are wrong, which I do not
believe we are, the customer would then choose the other alternative.
Chairman: We have noticed that in other things,
Mr Lerenius. I hope you are right. Thank you very much, gentlemen.