EC TO RECONSIDER SHIP REGISTER PLANS

EC TO RECONSIDER SHIP REGISTER PLANS

The European Commission promises to reconsider its proposals for a European ship register in the face of opposition to existing plans both from European shipowners and from some EC member states.

Eduardo Pena, the European Commission's director-general for transport, said this week that a European registry probably would have to be made more attractive, with better financial incentives and tax advantages.But despite little support for a European flag from the maritime community, Mr. Pena said the idea had not been dropped. A number of member countries also dislike the proposals, but the European Parliament currently is considering the idea, and is expected to publish some new recommendations in June.

The European Commission will study these and then examine ways that its own proposals could be modified, Mr. Pena said in an interview.

The idea of a Euroflag, named Euros, was first floated by Lord Clinton- Davis, the former EC transport commissioner, about three years ago in an effort to halt the decline of the European Community's merchant fleet.

Formal proposals were published last year, but many owners claimed the new flag would not offer any advantages over existing offshore registers such as the highly successful Norwegian International Ship Register.

Only last week, Henk Rootliep, chairman of Royal Nedlloyd Group NV, said Euros proposals in their current form would not eliminate the competitive disadvantage of ships sailing under the flag of an EC member state. Dutch owners, for example, would face higher costs flying the European flag than the Dutch flag.

Although a European register would be cheaper for some EC owners whose vessels are registered in countries such as Spain, Portugal or France, Mr. Pena acknowledged that the EC's present proposals "are insufficient."

As well as greater financial incentives, there may have to be some relaxation of rules on the nationality of crews, with owners allowed to recruit non-EC nationals.

However, safety standards would not be jeopardized, Mr. Pena insisted.

Speaking at a conference in London on European transport in the 1990s, Mr. Pena said a common transport policy covering all modes of transport would be in place at the beginning of 1993 when the European single market is scheduled for completion.

He forecast that 90 percent of directives related to a European transport policy would be in place by then. This would include the freedom of cabotage in European coastal waters.

Countries that are opposed to the liberalization of coastal shipping, such as Greece and France, may be persuaded to relax their positions if only ships flying the Euros flag are allowed to trade freely within the EC, Mr. Pena speculated.