Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280 - 300)



Andrew Bennett

  280. Could you tell us the date of that last directive that you looked at so that we can see how it developed?
  (Mr Lerenius) The date of the last draft?

  281. Yes.
  (Mr Lerenius) It was17 June and, as I say, we have not seen that version yet.

  282. On this issue, how far do you see if safety will be affected by the directive? The ports have got a pretty crummy record on safety, have they not?
  (Mr Lerenius) It depends on what you compare with. I think we have improved our safety record quite dramatically over the last years, which we talked about last time I was here. I think it is more a general worry. When you fragmentise in a port it is more difficult to control things. I understand again that there have been some measures taken in the last draft to solve that but I have not seen those so maybe our worry is unfounded, but I need to see the last draft.

  283. There are two problems, are there not? One is that accidents may happen because there are different people doing different jobs and their safety does not necessarily intermesh? The other problem is that when someone has an accident it is sometimes very difficult to apportion blame and that can often cause as much upset as the accident to people who are trying to pursue claims on safety grounds?
  (Mr Lerenius) I suppose in general that could be a worry for the future, yes.

Mrs Ellman

  284. Do you feel that the Government and ministers are pursuing the interests of British ports in relation to the directive?
  (Mr Lerenius) Yes. As I said, the Department has actually been very helpful. Remember that in England we have been pretty much on our own here.


  285. The United Kingdom, you mean.
  (Mr Lerenius) Sorry. The United Kingdom has been very much on its own and they have been doing quite a good job in improving the latest draft, which, as I have said, I have not seen. They have been instrumental in improving it.

Mrs Ellman

  286. I would like now to turn to a question of pilots in the Humber. Are the pilots now as high quality as they were before the strike?
  (Mr Lerenius) The present service we have put in place since 8 December last year, if you look at incident rates, safety records, etc, yes, are very well on a level already with the previous regime on safety.


  287. Are you absolutely certain that that is so, Mr Lerenius, because there have been some considerable discussions about the level of safety in the Humber and the expertise of the people that you have trained?
  (Mr Lerenius) Yes, I am certain. Captain Hames can probably help me out more on the detail but for the moment, yes, I am certain. We follow this very thoroughly and we have looked at the incident rates, as I said, and they are pretty much comparable.

Andrew Bennett

  288. On the question of containers, where is the world going? Are we going to end up with some very big container ships who will not really be able to come into British ports either because of the size or because there will not be sufficient local market and therefore most of those really large container ships are going to go to a European port and we are going simply to take trans-shipments from them? Is that the way it is going or are we going to stick with much smaller sized international container ships?
  (Mr Lerenius) We are not supposed to comment on an ongoing inquiry but if we build Dibden that will not be a problem because then we can handle those ships.


  289. Is Dibden the only port amongst the 21 you tell us you own that you imagine will be able to take the larger containers?
  (Mr Lerenius) I do not think we know exactly where the container shipping lines will go in size because there are other restrictions here. It is not only to build bigger and bigger ships. You have to look at the infrastructure, how we handle ships like that, what sort of congestion you get on shore, etc. That you should probably ask the container shipping companies. If we look at the size that we see as a reality we can handle them in Southampton today too but, as I say, we are running out of capacity.

Andrew Bennett

  290. There is an argument that the Government should have a clear policy and one of the issues for a national strategy for ports is, are we looking to have a substantial number of ports which will take relatively small ships, taking trans-shipment from the continent, or do we need to have one or two very large ports where there is a huge amount of investment in the port and in the infrastructure, and we have just been hearing about the possibilities for improving the rail links? You are not going to be able to do that for all of them, are you? Are you putting your money on a lot of ports or concentrating it in a very small number?
  (Captain Chestnutt) I will take both questions in one if I may. First of all, as my Chief Executive said, we think that the sorts of ships that we have been describing, the ones that will use Dibden, are about the maximum realistically in any sensible time frame. The advantage of handling those sorts of ships in a few ports is that it gives you the greatest ability to get boxes to rail. One of the disadvantages of having lots of smaller ports is that you cannot build decent rail loads in any sensible time frame. There are many advantages in having large hub gateway ports.

  291. Boxes to rail at Southampton would be rail to other parts of Europe as well as within the United Kingdom?

  (Captain Chestnutt) We do trans-ship back to Europe but we do it by ship. What tends to happen is that you will offload a box in Southampton and by a smaller, faster vessel get it to whichever continental port you wish. We do send some down to Iberia and indeed we send some to north west Europe.


  292. Interestingly, if it were the case that someone moved in, say, on Falmouth or Milford Haven where there is not only depth but the ability to expand, or even Scapa Flow, I have heard, and was seeking to cream off some of your trade, would that not be a real problem if you had put all of your investment in the one place?
  (Captain Chestnutt) The real answer to that is no and there are a number of reasons why. Scapa Flow is not very well rail connected and therefore there are disadvantages to that.

  293. No, but they would not seek to do that, would they?
  (Captain Chestnutt) Indeed.

  294. Scapa Flow for the moment is a slightly different case.
  (Captain Chestnutt) The market driven shipping lane issue, these major ships that are coming from the Far East or America or wherever, as they are going up the Channel towards continental Europe,—

  295. So Falmouth and Milford Haven would be quite useful?
  (Captain Chestnutt) No, funnily enough. They are too far off the Lake. They have been looked at on a number of occasions. All of these ports, from Portland onwards, towards the west have been looked and considered and they fail on one of a number of reasons. It is either distance from the shipping lanes themselves, and there is a cost to that for the shipping company diverting, or it is the internal road and rail communications from that port to the market it serves, and Falmouth is not an easy route to get to.

Andrew Bennett

  296. You do not own any of them, do you?
  (Captain Chestnutt) We have ports in the West Country.


  297. But you do not own the two we are talking about.
  (Captain Chestnutt) No, we do not own the two we are talking about.

  298. If you are guessing incorrectly you are going to be in difficulties.
  (Captain Chestnutt) If we have got our facts wrong, yes, we would be in difficulties, but no, we have not.

  299. You know you never get it wrong. Thank you very much, gentlemen.
  (Mr Lerenius) Madam Chairman, can I add one thing to that? Also, if we have our facts right that will mean that we will contract customers before we bid, which means that we and the customers would agree on the facts, so we will know basically before we build the berths if we have our facts right or wrong.

  300. And that of course would affect the rate of your infrastructure investment, would it not, because you are saying that the only way you could have a signed contract would be to put the money into that kind of investment, so if someone else wished to do it the other way you might be a little bit behind the arrangements.
  (Mr Lerenius) But if we are wrong, which I do not believe we are, the customer would then choose the other alternative.

  Chairman: We have noticed that in other things, Mr Lerenius. I hope you are right. Thank you very much, gentlemen.

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