The recent suspected hijacking incident involving an oil tanker near the Isle of Wight was a “lucky escape” for the shipping industry because it occurred in British waters, according to former Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani.
In a new report for Policy Exchange, published today, the Conservative MP says that “the UK has excellent policing, coastguard and defence resources, with authorities that can cooperate with one another effectively and are well-equipped to deal with such incidents. Many other nations do not have such resources at their disposal.”
In the wake of the suspecting hijacking, Ghani says the UK should use its role as host of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) – the only UN body headquartered in Britain – to improve global shipping security.
The former Transport Minister writes:
“When incidents like this occur elsewhere in the world, they can often lead to a protracted stand-off. It is also fortunate that the Nave Andromeda was a Liberian-flagged vessel; it is easy to see how the situation could quickly have developed geopolitical complications if the vessel had been flying a Russian or Chinese flag, for example.
The IMO is in theory responsible for the safety and security of international shipping, but in practice it lacks the capacity to deal with incidents such as this. IMO guidelines mandate that vessels are searched prior to departure, but in developing countries with less stringent security measures stowaways are able to slip through.”
She also issues a stark warning about the state of the UK maritime sector during the Covid-19 pandemic:
“The Government risks overlooking the Maritime sector in its economic response to the Coronavirus crisis. Thus far, the Department for Transport has focused its attention primarily upon the aviation industry. There has not been comparable, or even near-comparable, engagement with the maritime sector. Both are key to British prosperity, to the movement of freight and people, and to the livelihood of many communities. The Government cannot choose between the two of them.”
The Policy Exchange report, ‘A Global Maritime Power: Building a Better Future For Post-Brexit Britain’, co-authored by Nusrat Ghani, also argues that:
- The maritime sector is crucial to the UK economy, and risks being overlooked by the Government in its response to Coronavirus;
- The Government should invest in shipbuilding and port infrastructure to ensure that the ‘levelling up’ agenda benefits coastal communities;
- The Government should review EU-derived rules governing the maritime sector after the end of the transition period;
- ‘Free Ports’ will only be successful in the UK if they include tax and regulatory incentives, and are not overseen by local authorities;
- The Government should seek to liberalise trade in maritime services when striking new trade deals after Brexit;
- The Government should fast-track funding and testing for emerging maritime technologies, such as drones and unmanned vessels;
- The Government should support investment in low emission shipping in order to achieve Net Zero by 2050, and use the upcoming COP26 climate change conference to encourage other countries to do the same.
The paper has been endorsed by Labour peer Admiral Lord West, former First Sea Lord and former Security Minister, who said:
“For many years successive governments have failed to understand that the maritime sector is one of the nation’s greatest assets. It is crucially important both strategically and economically, being fundamental to energy and food supply and the manufacturing industry. Global shipping is still effectively run from London in terms of insurance, arbitration and other shipping services.
Despite this it has been overlooked by policymakers and having been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t received the same attention as other industries. This excellent new report by Policy Exchange highlights the importance of the sector, the challenges it faces, and the practical steps that can be taken to support it. Its proposals should be taken seriously at the highest levels of Government.”
The UK maritime sector: 95% of all UK goods trade by volume is transported by sea, as is 25% of UK energy and 48% of UK food supplies.
According to MaritimeUK, the sector supported a total of £46.1 billion to the UK’s Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2017 and employed 220,000 people. Each year UK ports handle nearly 500 million tonnes of freight and 60 million international and domestic passenger journeys.