With a no-deal Brexit on 31 October looking increasingly likely, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson has urgently requested 'detailed assurances' from the UK government that British maritime professionals will not be adversely affected.
In his letter to Grant Shapps, the secretary of state for transport, Mr Dickinson highlights the 'alarmingly short period' to put in place the necessary new border requirements – including security and staffing. 'How can the government be so confident that traffic will continue to flow smoothly?' he asks.
The prospect of leaving the EU without a deal raises renewed worries about the future recognition of UK certificates of competency and other seafarer certificates, he continues.
'It is still unclear whether the European Commission and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) will enable a continued system of mutual certificate recognition,' he points out, 'and our members still face considerable uncertainties over the steps they should be taking to revalidate their certificates and to maintain their ability to work on ships flying other EU member flags. The Commission estimates there are nearly 4,000 UK seafarers in this position.'
The European Commission has pledged to prioritise re-recognising the UK, Mr Dickinson notes, but with the clock ticking and so much work still to do, the UK government urgently needs to provide EMSA with relevant and up-to-date information about UK compliance. Mr Dickinson also presses the government in his letter to agree a transitional period for UK seafarers and their employers.
Immediate action is required to ensure the UK has a distinctive strategic approach to its seafaring and shipping interests following withdrawal from the EU
Another theme of Mr Dickinson’s letter is the danger of a no-deal Brexit undermining the UK’s existing maritime aspirations, as set out in the recent Maritime 2050 vision statement. 'The uncertainty caused by Brexit, and the implications of leaving without a deal, means that immediate action is required to ensure the UK has a distinctive strategic approach to its seafaring and shipping interests following withdrawal from the EU,' he says.
'The lack of such a strategic approach was evident earlier this year when the government chartered additional ferry capacity to keep trade flowing in the event of a no-deal Brexit,' he continues. 'The absence of any flag or crewing requirements, or controls over the pay and conditions of seafarers, created the potential for damage to existing operators who train and employ British seafarers. I hope that these mistakes will not be repeated.'
Nautilus stands ready to assist with the development of the strategic approach, he points out, having over the last three years set out detailed proposals for ways in which the UK could maximise the employment and training of British seafarers and promote the use of UK-flagged shipping in the post-Brexit environment
Other worrying developments related to Brexit include the 'disturbing' reduction in the size of the UK-flagged fleet, with owners changing registry as a result of financial uncertainties, and to comply with EU tonnage tax requirements for a proportion of a qualifying company’s fleet to be registered under an EU/EEA flag.
And the seizure of the Stena Impero has highlighted the UK’s potential isolation from the umbrella of EU maritime security initiatives. 'We have been concerned about the loss of the UK’s command of the EU Naval Force counter-piracy operations,' says Mr Dickinson; 'and the laudable aim of developing a multinational task force to protect merchant ships and their crews in the Gulf is clearly made much harder by the UK’s changing geo-political status.'