Jobs at risk as EU pushes sea pollution rules

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Strict new pollution controls will cost thousands of British shipping jobs, force ferry fares to rise by a fifth and may even drive operators out of business, MPs have been told.

The UK maritime industry has warned that ports including Hull, Newcastle, Harwich, Teesport and Rosyth would be badly hit by tougher limits on sulphur emissions in the North Sea.

Ferry companies said their fuel bills would rise by tens of millions of pounds a year, resulting in passenger fare increases of 20 per cent, fewer services and job losses. They also claimed that more traffic would be transferred to the roads and imported goods would cost more.

The so-called Annex VI controls, to come into force from 2015, are backed by the British government as part of an international convention which would bring shipping into line with pollution rules governing other forms of transport such as road haulage. The EU wants to go further and force passenger ferries to observe the limits even when they are outside special emission control areas.

The Commons Transport Select Committee has supported the Government, saying the costs of tighter controls, estimated at £1.1bn a year from 2020, would be outweighed by the health benefits.

But it urged the Government to work with fellow EU members to block the EC’s “gold-plating” of the regulations with additional restrictions on passenger ferries.

“However, we acknowledge that these regulations will impose significant costs on operators, and we therefore agree that the Commission should impose no additional burdens on operators at this time over and above the requirements of Annex VI.”

Steve Todd, national secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, said: “You are talking about thousands of seafarers’ jobs being at risk if companies are forced into having to withdraw vessels because they cannot comply by a certain date.”

P&O Ferries said ferry services within the North Sea emissions control area would face “severe economic cost pressures” from 2015 and non-economic routes would have to be closed.

“Within the UK, short sea and ferry services on the longer North Sea Routes from Rosyth, Newcastle, Teesport, Hull and Harwich are particularly exposed to these job losses,” it said.

Brittany Ferries told the committee its costs would rise by at least £40m and lead to the closure of longer routes.