Publication of the Maritime Growth Study

Circular No: NP/0173/15


Our ref: S1/1/15

22nd September 2015

Dear Colleagues

Publication of the Maritime Growth Study

Further to circular no. NP/018/15 of 6th February 2015, earlier this month the Government published the report of the Maritime Growth Study (MGS) which contains a number of recommendations of critical importance to the future of UK seafarers and regulation of the shipping industry.

All eighteen of the report’s recommendations to Government are designed to ‘increase the international competitiveness of the UK maritime industry.’ This reflects the backgrounds of the report’s authors, who represent ship ownership and maritime finance, law and insurance.

There was no trade union representation on the Study panel and the final report fails to tackle the RMT’s key concerns over the effect of nationality based pay exploitation, social dumping and the lack of nationality protections under the UK flag which have driven the decline in UK seafarer numbers over the past 30 years.

Recommendation six relating to the future of the Red Ensign/UK Register and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is of particular concern. The report calls for the UK Register to be separated from the MCA’s regulatory functions and re-established as a ‘more commercial’ body, along with changes to the MCA to:

•    Increase flexibility, pay and skills of MCA Surveyors and Inspectors ‘in order to better support industry customers and drive high standards.’
•    Fully recover the cost of providing MCA services ‘whilst remaining competitive with other international shipping registries.’
•    Appoint a Non-executive Chair on the MCA Board with responsibility for promoting the UK Register and to effectively enforce the Government’s maritime growth agenda.
•    Change the status of the MCA ‘to provide greater flexibility, boost customer service, increase commercial responsiveness and ... generate a reasonable profit on discretionary customer services.’

In addition to concerns over the future for the MCA’s key regulatory role in maritime safety, we should also be concerned at the recommended ‘focus’ of change in the MCA being ‘...the operation of that part of the ship register covering larger internationally trading ships whose owners are free to choose where they register in a highly competitive market.’ Whilst UK Ratings currently only hold around 41% of the jobs on UK flagged Tonnage Tax ships, this change would effectively exclude UK ratings from competing for jobs on UK flagged vessels in the deep sea sector.

The report also estimates a global shortage of seafarers of around 30,000 ratings and 50,000 officers by 2020, as the amount of sea trade, mainly on Pacific Ocean routes increases.

There are nine recommendations on maritime skills. We welcome the report’s calls for a review of Government (SMarT) funding, an up to date estimate of how many seafarers the UK industry, including ferry, freight, cruise and offshore supply sectors will need over the coming years and for the development of a maritime skills strategy and maritime apprenticeships.

The creation of a Maritime Skills Investment Fund sounds positive but what is needed is simplicity and clarity in seafarer training in order to improve uptake of Government funding, especially for ratings training. We will continue to argue for the Merchant Navy Training Board, on which RMT and Nautilus have seats to take on the role as industry co-ordinator of seafarer training schemes and funding streams.

It is clear, however, that this report is primarily concerned with creating the most favourable financial conditions for international shipowners to register on the UK Flag, to the mutual benefit of financial, legal and other maritime services in the City of London, not UK seafarers. The skills recommendations are secondary, although the union will continue to engage in promoting the link to ratings training in the Tonnage Tax and the development of Maritime Ratings Apprenticeships in deck, engine, catering and onboard services.

The Government has yet to respond to the report but the Shipping Minister used London International Shipping Week earlier this month to promote the MGS and to make provocative comments like this: “The best way we [the UK Government] can support the shipping industry is by supporting the free operation of the market.”

Copies of the report’s recommendations and the union’s submission to the MGS are attached and the full report is available to download here:

It would be appreciated if you could bring the content of this circular to the attention of all branch members and you will be updated with further developments on the recommendations from the MGS report.

Yours sincerely
Mick Cash
General Secretary