Quicker response to crisis needed for inland waterways

19 November 2009

Quicker response to crisis needed for inland waterways

Even now that Transport Secretary Tineke Huizinga has made it clear to the European Commission that inland waterway transport is undergoing a crisis, it turns out that it will be a minimum of three months before this leads to any concrete action. According to SP Member of Parliament and transport spokesman Emile Roemer, the industry cannot afford to wait that long. As a result of the crisis, many inland waterway firms stand on the threshold of bankruptcy.

"Inland water transport is being thrown to the sharks"

The crisis is hitting most such firms hard. Falling demand for cargo space and plummeting freight prices are forcing many to haul freight for far less than the cost price. A group of Belgian and Dutch inland waterway transport skippers have literally sounded the alarm, with around sixty gathering outside this week's two-day hearing at the European Commission on the consequences of the crisis for their industry. The group rang an enormous ship's bell to demonstrate in symbolic fashion the urgency of the situation.

Roemer feels that there has already been plenty of time to intervene. “It's clear that inland water transport is stuck in a structural crisis from which, without assistance, there is no way out," he says. "To date, however, no measure has been taken to provide such help. If we wait still longer it will simply be too late for many."

A number of inland waterway associations have proposed that a proportion of vessels be mothballed. Roemer identifies two conditions which should be placed on this: there must be support from the industry itself; and it must not be the only measure taken. Whether such support exists is something which the SP is currently looking into.

Meanwhile, the SP group in the European Parliament is working to ensure that the matter is put on to the political agenda with all due haste.

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