I write Ferry World just days after the momentous decision by the British electorate who, by a relatively small margin, say they want to pull out of the European Union.
If I don’t know what impact this will have on the future of British shipping, especially ferries both passenger and freight, then I am not alone. It is all too apparent that the UK is stepping into the unknown with little or no preparation or planning as to the likely implications. If the departure leads to a recession, that alone will reduce the volume of trade and will it be confined to the UK? Or will there be a domino effect with ramifi cations for other economies, if only because of a contagious loss of confi dence? The official response of the UK Chamber of Shipping said that “shipping moves 95% of the UK’s international trade and we don’t see that changing.”
But a recession means that 95% would be of a reduced overall tonnage and the flow of goods could change direction or fi nd new destinations altogether. Since joining the EU, a network of fine freight and passenger ro-ros has developed which overall is as effi cient as any in the world. The major international players, like DFDS and Stena, are supplemented by other freight ro-ros working routes for example from Scandinavia delivering forest products with space available for budget freight after delivering its staple cargoes.
But it is tempting to look ahead to when the EU has a totally different western boundary and if I describe an extreme interpretation of the options for the future, no-one knows just how profound the changes will be and European leaders are calling for quick decisions and not necessarily amicable ones that are well thought through.
Ultimately, it is possible even likely that Scotland will decide to leave the UK and stay with (or be allowed to re-enter) the EU and that could conceivably lead to border and customs issues within what is now the UK. It could even revitalise a direct ferry route to the continent ex Scotland, initially from Rosyth. And as the position of Northern Ireland is totally unclear at this time, it could lead to the Dublin Government backing a direct link to Scotland creating momentum behind the ‘Land-Bridge’ ro-ro concept, Ireland across Scotland to the continent.
This may sound fanciful, but such is the uncertainty and complexity of the political situation that nothing can be ruled in or out. Last month, I described Gedser-Rostock, one of the oldest Germany-Denmark ferry routes being revitalised as part of the Copenhagen–Berlin section of international corridor – European route E55 – from southern Sweden to Kalamata, Greece. And such evident strategic investment, dynamism and integration is continuing on the Continent, the EU heartland where ferry traffi c and the ferry business is not vegetating, but becoming ever more efficient and integrated which can only boost the economies of the countries involved.