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With a review of the UK Tonnage Tax on the horizon, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson reﬂects on how valuable the scheme has been to British seafaring
The latest ﬁgures from the UK Department for Transport have just been released, and they show that, while the number of UK seafarers (both ofﬁcers and ratings) on Tonnage Tax vessels grew slightly in the last 12 months, the trend overall has been a steady decline since the scheme was launched in 2000.
In 2003/4, when the ﬁrst complete ﬁgures were issued by the DfT, there were 6,091 ofﬁcers employed on Tonnage Tax vessels, 48% of whom were British (2,951 UK ofﬁcers). However, in 2018/19 a total of 7,836 ofﬁcers were employed on Tonnage Tax vessels but only 26% came from the UK (2,066 ofﬁcers), with 33% being EEA/EU and 40% coming from the rest of the world.
The position for British ratings is worse. Over the same period the number of UK ratings has fallen from 28% in '03/'04 to 13% in '18/'19, with three quarters being from outside the European Economic Area. The proportion of UK ﬂagged vessels in the Tonnage Tax has also fallen. At its peak, around 95 companies had joined the Tonnage Tax and the majority of vessels were UK ﬂagged. Today only 71 company groups remain in the scheme, with a total of 713 vessels and only 268 (38%) of these UK registered.
Nautilus has long held the view that the Tonnage Tax scheme did much to reverse the sharp decline in the size of the UK registered ﬂeet and the number of UK cadets in training. It is easy to forget that in the late 1990s, training levels had plummeted to almost nothing and the ﬂeet was in sharp decline. Today, thanks to the Tonnage Tax, we train on average about 750 cadets per year. With the additional support of SMarT and SMarT Plus these levels are set to increase signiﬁcantly to around 1200 per year.
It is therefore beyond argument that government support has rejuvenated UK cadet training, encouraged inward investment and supported ﬂag growth. But in terms of maritime skills as a whole, at best it prevented a total collapse.
I know the UK Tonnage Tax can deliver more because we’ve seen what has been done with the equivalent Dutch scheme Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson