Shipping lines could bypass British ports if “light dues” are raised, warned the British International Freight Association (BIFA). The UK Department for Transport (DfT) announced light dues will rise to 39p ($0.638) per net registered ton (nrt) from July 1, 2009 with a further increase to 43p ($0.703) on April 1, 2010. The maximum number of chargeable voyages each year will also rise from seven to nine, with the upper tonnage threshold of 35,000 increasing to 40,000 nrt in 2010-11, explained BIFA. The increase in the voyage cap will mean that the short-sea and ferry industries will see a 43% increase in light dues. (Light dues are fees charged for maintenance of navigation aids and take their name from the fact they supported light houses.)
“In our experience, the steamship lines faced with rises such as these would seek to pass them on to their customers which will have a negative effect on our members. At a time when the British consumer and business is struggling, this move is likely to increase the cost of imports and exports, further damaging the British economy at this critical time,” said Peter Quantrill, BIFA director general.
“BIFA recognizes that the government has made some concessions following sustained opposition from many in the shipping industry,” said Quantrill. “We also acknowledge the absolute importance of maintaining such a significant service for the shipping industry. However, we still feel these increases are excessive, particularly in the current economic conditions.”
Quantrill added, “We agree with others that a possible consequence of rises like this could be that shipowners transfer services to ports on the continent, leaving UK shippers and forwarders with less choice. One unintended consequence of a decision by shipping lines to bypass UK ports as a result of the increase may be that the Government obtains less revenue rather than more.”