A mandatory port levy scheme should be introduced across the UK to help fund crucial welfare provision for seafarers, according to the Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB).
In a letter to UK maritime minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton,the charity has called for the levy to be paid by ships visiting each UK port, which it says should then be re-invested into the cost of providing long-term welfare support for seafarers.
Major new research by the MNWB – published in its UK Port Welfare Provision Report – shows charities expect to spend £4.8million on port welfare provision in 2023.
At present 8% of UK ports have a voluntary levy scheme in place, but this falls significantly short in funding crucial welfare services including seafarer centres, volunteers, transport and connectivity for seafarers and fishers, says the MNWB.
The mandatory levy is among eight key recommendations in the report which MNWB says are important for 'underpinning a new national maritime welfare strategy in the UK'. It cites several other countries which already have fully- or majority-funded schemes in place such as New Zealand, Germany and Romania. Dutch welfare missions in the Netherlands are also hopeful their recommendations for welfare levies will be adopted soon.
The MNWB would like UK levy primary legislation ready for Parliamentary and royal assent by December 2024, and points out the principles of port welfare services and port levies are enshrined in the International Labour Organization's Maritime Labour Convention 2006.
Chief executive of the MNWB Stuart Rivers said: 'A welfare levy of this kind is what the sector needs and would be a game changer for seafarers’ welfare in the UK. We want to drive welfare standards and demonstrate leadership in the global maritime industry.'
The port welfare provision report was launched at the MNWB 75th anniversary event at Westminster in London on 16 October 2023, and attended by the maritime minister along with other charity and industry representatives.
In her speech at the anniversary event, Baroness Vere said she was not there to address the policy questions, but acknowledged both the importance of seafarers to the economy and the vital work performed by maritime charities.
'We need to work alongside you, to make sure that you have what you need to support the people that help you support seafarers and fishers,' she said. 'I do think we need to do more for our seafarers because they are the heart and soul of our shipping industry. And leading on from that, the heart and soul of our economy.'
Former maritime minister Robert Courts was also announced as the MNWB's new vice president. The umbrella charity for UK Merchant Navy and fishing fleets has recently become the UK National Seafarers' Welfare Board, after signing a memorandum of understanding with the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
- read the full report HERE