No light changes for shipping

PORT owners have been left in the dark over the future funding of navigational aids around Britain's coast – with no light at the end of the tunnel.Felixstowe port chiefs had been hoping for massive changes to the way lights, buoys and beacons are paid for amid fears that the present system could deter huge long-haul vessels from calling.

PORT owners have been left in the dark over the future funding of navigational aids around Britain's coast – with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Felixstowe port chiefs had been hoping for massive changes to the way lights, buoys and beacons are paid for amid fears that the present system could deter huge long-haul vessels from calling.

But the government has now announced that there will be no immediate overhaul of the tax on ships to pay for navigation – known as "light dues" – despite pressure from ports and ship owners.

Shipping Minister David Jamieson has instead said there will be a review of the light dues system and also of its possible effects on commercial trading patterns.

He said the current investigation into the tax had not produced a workable view on the way forward. There would be a freeze on light dues this year while the work was undertaken.

Some campaigners fear major shipping lines could start making more use of feeder services to the UK from mainland European ports rather than call with deepsea services because of the tax.

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It costs the owners of the world's biggest ships up to £16,000 in tax per visit to Felixstowe – while most European ports charge nothing at all.

The Independent Light Dues Forum (ILDF), whose members include some of Felixstowe's biggest customers, wants the light dues abolished to "end the unfair discrimination" against big ships.

Forum spokesman Steve Hutty said members were disappointed the government had not taken firm action.

Light dues, which bring in £73 million a year to the Treasury's coffers, pay for 350 lights, 690 buoys and 220 beacons to keep the UK's coasts safe and free from shipwrecks. In most other countries these are funded by general taxation.

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