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Stockholm out to turn Baltic Sea lanes green
1 July 2009
Lloyd's List

THE development of green Baltic Sea transport corridors is set to take centre stage in Europe this summer.

The Swedish government, which takes over the revolving presidency of the European Union today, believes there is an urgent need to further integrate EU environmental goals and transport objectives. As a result, Sweden intends to refocus €200m ($280m) of research money which had hitherto been focused on road and rail improvements to take a more integrated approach with more maritime solutions.

The green corridors concept aims to demonstrate combined transport solutions and a more sustainable and stronger sense of intermodality, especially in the Nordic region. However, a key stumbling block to this is that maritime freight coming into a port has to be cleared through customs, regardless of whether it is from an EU state or further afield. Road freight does not have this obstacle.

Sweden is keen to see the Baltic area become a model region to highlight how shortsea shipping can become better integrated with rail and road without the administrative burden.

The green corridors will help break some of these obstacles while focusing on more efficient and environmentally-sound measures. For Sweden, this means a review of its ports, and the infrastructure that links them with the main industrial and metropolitan areas. It also means the further privatisation of some of the functions of its maritime administration, such as pilotage duties and a reduction of the tax on electricity that is supplied to vessels in port — cold ironing. This tax exemption it would like to see rolled out across Europe.

But none of this has addressed the key grievances of its shipowners, who are flagging out their vessels in disgust at a lack of shipping policy, a lack of understanding of the industry on the part of a government which it considers out of touch, and, most importantly, an absence of an EU-style tonnage tax regime similar to nearly all other European maritime countries.

Within the Ministry of Enterprise, state secretary Leif Zetterberg has been developing the maritime and transport policies. He admits that while he has been focusing on the role of maritime as part of the country’s — and Europe’s — transport strategy, there are some that are still not happy. But he defended the decision not to pursue the tonnage tax option that many other European maritime nations have adopted. He said that with 25,000 employees, shipping was an important industry and there were sufficient entrepreneurial opportunities within Swedish business for the shipowners.

Owners would have to choose, but the current economic climate meant owners had some tough decisions to make.

In his opinion, the government has already been generous to Swedish owners. It has given them a SKr1.8bn saving by removing the employee tax. He also said the net tonnage registered in the country will increase as vessels have already flagged in from Finland and there is still new tonnage coming in as newbuilding deliveries are taken.

However, the government has also helped themaritime industry in other ways, according to Mr Zetterberg. It has developed stronger educational facilities, such as at Chalmers University in Gothenburg and the Lighthouse project.

Mr Zetterberg would like to see the time taken to train a competent ship’s master reduced to less than the current average of 12 years. “This is a long time, based somewhat on old traditions,” he said.

“We need to have new qualifications. As a pilot on an aeroplane, it does not take 12 years. Some of these parts can be more efficient.”

The government is also looking at further environmental support for the industry, such as developing the infrastructure to dispose of the sulphur rich by-product from exhaust scrubbers on Baltic Sea traffic.

In meeting the EU proposals and its own goals, Sweden is also looking at its ports strategy and the level of investment in their infrastructure that will be needed in the near future. All ports will need to submit bids for infrastructure funds later this year, with further integration with the country’s rail system to help develop more east-west freight flow through the country.

All but one Swedish port is state owned, and the result is creating a certain amount of jostling for attention as they clamour for the cash. The port of Gothenburg already has the lion’s share of international freight and is looking at bringing in private operators, but on the east coast, the ports of Stockholm, Södertälje and Gävle are looking to position themselves as the favoured port in that region.

Stockholm is developing a container terminal about 90 km south of the Swedish capital at Nynäshamn.

While the port plans have been approved there have been suggestions that local heavyweights, such as the Wallenburg family, object to the infrastructure developments to and from the terminal.

The nearby port of Södertälje has already expanded its container operations and Gävle has also put forward its own expansion plans for ro-ro, container and bulk freight.
 
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