Inland waterways: save small operators, says SP

18 November 2008

Inland waterways: save small operators, says SP

Old vessels belonging to small firms operating on inland waterways are being threatened with extinction by regulations so exacting they are impossible to meet. "The EU is meddling even in such matters as the width of the beds on board," says SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer, who is urging the European Commission to exempt vessels over thirty years old from the most demanding of the 140 regulations which have been tightened up by the authority governing traffic on the Rhine. "Small firms operating on inland waterways are important in our part of Europe for the movement of goods via a network of small waterways,” Meijer explains. "They do the work of tens of thousands of lorries."

Environment, health, nature

Erik MeijerErik Meijer will use written questions to remind the European Commission of past statements from Brussels to the effect that water transport makes an important contribution to European freight traffic. This reduces the burden of road transport on the environment, with advantages for public health and for nature. The Netherlands, Belgium and France are the principal beneficiaries, through their network of small canals and small vessels. Yet barges under a thousand tonne capacity are no longer built. To put this in perspective, a large lorry will weigh around forty to fifty tonnes when laden.

Old vessels

Inland water transport has been able to continue only because the standards set in 1976 were designed for the sole purpose of making newly-built vessels safer, faster and cleaner. They were not applied in full to old vessels in order to ensure that operators were not faced with a Hobson's choice: of unaffordable rebuilding, or demolition.


The Dutch General Shippers Union (ASV) and others have informed the SP that they expect inland vessels of between 300 and 1,500 tonnes built before 1976 to disappear completely from Europe's canals in the three phases during which they must comply fully with stricter European safety standards.

This must be stopped

Erik Meijer is determined that the European Commission will not simply resign itself to the disappearance of the majority of these vessels. "Not least because it has been calculated that it will take 67,000 lorries to replace them," he says.

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