Shipping lines call for tax cut
SHIP owners are urging the government to "lighten up" over one of the oldest taxes on the statute books – or see ports like Felixstowe losing trade.There are fears major shipping lines could start making more use of feeder services to the UK from mainland European ports rather than call with huge long-haul vessels.
SHIP owners are urging the government to "lighten up" over one of the oldest taxes on the statute books – or see ports like Felixstowe losing trade.
There are fears major shipping lines could start making more use of feeder services to the UK from mainland European ports rather than call with huge long-haul vessels.
This would cut the bills for the tax, known as "light dues", for many companies.
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.
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Now a powerful new lobby group is calling on the government to abolish the light dues, which pay for navigational aids to keep the UK's coasts safe and free from shipwrecks.
However, the UK Major Ports Group, which represents Felixstowe, feels abandoning the tax is unlikely as it brings in £73 million a year to the Treasury's coffers, and that a compromise will be the answer.
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The Parliamentary Maritime Group is now looking at the whole question of the light dues and hearing evidence from ports, shipping companies and the three bodies which control the navigational equipment around the UK coast.
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.
It also wants the navigational aids agencies – Trinity House, Northern Lights and the Commissioners of Irish Lights – merged to cut overheads.
Forum spokesman Steve Hutty told the parliamentary group, which was attended by MPs and peers, that UK ports were in danger of losing direct calls by the long-haul deepsea containerships unless action was taken soon.
He said a number of the lines with ocean-going vessels were considering the use of feeder ships to reduce costs and this would hit UK ports hard.
"The ILDF is totally against the current charging regime as it is unfair to large merchant vessels calling infrequently in the UK," said Mr Hutty.
The UK Major Ports Group believes one way forward may be to alter the scale of fees to help larger long-haul vessels which don't benefit from the concessions enjoyed by those ships which make frequent calls.
The government says Britain has a special need for extra navigational aids because of its combination of deep water, rocky coastlines and shifting, sandy seabeds to the south and east.
The aids the tax pays for includes 350 lights, 690 buoys and 220 beacons. In most other countries these are funded by general taxation.