Shipping ”hampered by endless paperwork”, says Digital Assembly 2017

Europeans ship owners and seafarers highlighted the importance of smart digital solutions in reducing the administrative burden faced by the shipping industry at Digital Assembly 2017 co-organised  by the European Commission and the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU on 15th and 16th June.

Shipping still does not enjoy a genuine single market and remains hampered by endless paperwork. This is to the detriment of the crew, which faces increased workload with repercussions on rest-time and job satisfaction. It also affects the overall smooth shipping operations, especially for shortsea shipping operators as they frequently call at EU ports within short time spans, said the Assembly.

The Reporting Formalities Directive that aimed to simplify and rationalise reporting formalities for ships in European ports as of June 2016 has unfortunately not helped in easing the situation, it said. Crews and companies faced a worse situation today than before. Rather than having a single European window, diverging national solutions were developed and even at Member States’ level there is very often no single solution in place.

Some illustrative examples include: In port A the Master has to insert the date of birth along the following instruction: DD/MM/YYYY for his crew; in the next European port he calls at it has to be in the form of DD.MMM.YYYY and in a third port the format obliges the crew to put YYYY/MM/DD. An Excel document with 18 tab pages to be filled in with specific codes requires hours of work in view of calling port A. Unfortunately this work cannot be re-used as for the next call a Word document with different data requirements needed to be filled in and sent 72 hours in advance of the vessel’s arrival, the Assembly stated.

This results in shipping companies and crew facing increased paperwork, different software requirements, a multiplicity of authorities and intermediate parties. Procedures and requirements were not only complex but also repetitive, resulting in a loss of productivity, job satisfaction and unnecessary workload and stress for ship crews.

Digital solutions are there, all actors just need now to implement them on the basis of harmonised datasets and formats for cargo, crew and vessel data. A joint effort is also required to reduce reporting obligations to a minimum list of truly necessary formalities. The solution should take state- of-the-art technology into account, ideally data is available in a ‘cloud’ or another platform from where relevant authorities pull the needed information. Only in this way could shipping be put on an equal par with land-based transport modes, which already benefited from a single market.

The EU Social Partners in the maritime sector called on the European Commission to urgently remedy the situation through a comprehensive revision of the Reporting Formalities Directive. It should create a true European single window environment for crew and companies that fully ensures the ‘reporting once’ principle and which shares all necessary cargo and conveyance data between governments and relevant authorities.

There is no time for complacency here. A failed EU legislation needs to be remedied as soon as possible. ECSA and ETF therefore called on the European Commission to prioritise this matter as part of its Digital Agenda and Better Regulation Initiative and to propose a revision in time for it to be completed during this legislature. They called upon the European Parliament and Member States to fully support and prioritise such a revision.

The European Community Shipowners’ Associations and the European Transport Workers’ Federation have identified the administrative workload as a priority issue on their joint programme for the European Sectoral Social Dialogue.