The expanding coastal network


The ability of coastal shipping to reduce congestion in landside transport has long been recognised although the relative cheapness of road haulage has, until recently, made it difficult for a real impact to be made. Transport modes tend to be “habit forming” and people moving goods have become used to the ease and economy of the lorry, even though its social and environmental disadvantages have become obvious. Maritime technology, along with the realities of congested roads, are at last making a difference with transport by coastal sea routes growing fast, thanks to some major investment in suitable shipping and port infrastructure. It is fair to note that it is Europe that is leading the field in this respect, with an exciting range of intra-European ferry routes.

A limited amount of European Union financial assistance has helped in the establishment of these new routes, with the European Commission itself encouraging the process with a scheme that provides initial funding for ship owners as they try and attract their first customers. These were proved to be successful in the Mediterranean, where road hauliers were encouraged to use a number of new routes up and down the Italian coast, between Italy and France and also to Spain and Greece. Now new routes are being established up and down the Atlantic seaboard, between Scandinavia and Spain, for instance, and even between the Low Country ports and the Iberian Peninsula.

Rather than describing them as ferries, it is perhaps more appropriate to describe the ships operating these services as “coastal and short sea liners”. High quality and modern roll-on and roll-off ships (see Seascapes No. 117), they operate to strict schedules, providing their customers with services that are arguably more reliable than are available to road transport, as it fights its way down the congested roads. In parallel with these services, there is also an expanding network of feeder container operations, (see Seascapes No.77) and coastal container services that are keeping traffic off the roads. Both in terms of cost and efficiency, these ships are encouraging shippers to revisit sea transport.

Other parts of the world have looked with interest at the European coastal renaissance. In the United States, where there is huge congestion on the coastal interstate highways, there have been several proposals for coastal freight operations. These, however, invariably seem to be handicapped by protectionist policies which put up the price of ships to unsustainable levels. Meanwhile there are efforts to promote coastal shipping around the long Indian coast, and China has been investing heavily in its coastal services. There are also new proposals to revitalise Australian coastal shipping.


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