Court call on ship light tax row
SHIPPING owners are calling on the government to see the light on tax for their ships – or face court action.The row is over one of the oldest taxes on the country's statute books, known as "light dues", which pay for action to keep our coasts free from shipwrecks.
By RICHARD CORNWELL Felixstowe editor
SHIPPING owners are calling on the government to see the light on tax for their ships – or face court action.
The row is over one of the oldest taxes on the country's statute books, known as "light dues", which pay for action to keep our coasts free from shipwrecks.
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It costs the owners of the world's largest ships up to £16,000 in tax per visit to Felixstowe – while most European ports charge nothing at all.
Now a group of leading shipping lines, including some of Felixstowe's most important customers, have told the government that light dues, which pay for navigational aids, must be abandoned.
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And some of them are threatening to take a case to the European courts because UK ports are at an unfair competitive disadvantage to their mainland rivals.
Last year the government made a cut in the light dues, which saved some shipping lines up to £30,000 a year.
Executives at Felixstowe have been campaigning for a level playing field with Europe and were pleased to see cuts to encourage the owners of larger vessels to continue using the container terminal.
They will again be heartened by the shippers' stance and the gauntlet thrown down to shipping minister David Jamieson, though warnings that some shipping lines may decide instead to end direct calls to UK ports will be less welcome.
A study presented to the minister by the Independent Light Dues Forum says ending direct calls is a real possibility. A ship needs to discharge around 200 containers to justify a UK port call – without light dues it would be 150 boxes.
The forum represents 21 shipping lines, who pay around £35 million of the £73m of light dues collected each year, and says the cost of visiting Felixstowe, Southampton and other UK ports is well above that of calls to European ports.
Forum spokesman Steve Hutty said: "This report shows that light dues make it more expensive for a ship to enter a British port.
"That can be crucial when shipping companies make their decisions on where to call. The report should make it clear that the costs matter and they should be abolished."
The tax pays for navigational aids including 350 lights, 690 buoys and 220 beacons. In most other countries these are funded by general taxation.