EU barge owners seek access to $27m reserve fund.
Europe"s barge owners are to ask Brussels to release ?20m ($27m) sitting in a reserve fund so they can scrap older tank barges and thereby reduce overcapacity. There are between 300 and 400 single-hull tank barges operating on European Union rivers, according to the European Barge Union. Releasing money from the reserve would accelerate their phase-out and help put a floor under tumbling rates.
?That is our money. We paid it into the reserve fund,? said EBU tanker barge committee chairman Gunther Jaegers.
To access the fund owners would have to prove the market suffered from a ?structural disturbance?, rather than simply a cyclical downturn, Mr Jaegers said. This would require the support of at least one member state, possibly the Netherlands or Germany, he said.
Tank barge owners would prepare a proposal within four to six weeks and would argue that continuing competition between single and double hull tankers was undermining the market, it was reported.
The total Europe tank barge fleet is said to number around 1,200. The current timetable for phasing out all single hulls is staggered and runs until 2018. Chemical carriers facing a 2012 deadline, while for petrol carriers the deadline is 2015.
Barge owners and law-makers met in Brussels yesterday to discuss the role of inland navigation, though talk of the crisis was kept to a minimum.
Dry bulk owners faced a bigger dilemma as they could not argue the market was suffering a structural failure and so had little chance of accessing their own reserve, which has more money, said Mr Jeagers, who is also managing partner with German owner Reederei Jaegers and managing director of Chemgas.
Rates on Europe"s rivers were reported to have dropped 25% last year compared to 2008 while decreases in volumes were said to have been ?enormous?. Anecdotal evidence from attendees suggested many operators were on the verge of bankruptcy.
But despite these ?unprecedented? trading conditions, there is no expectation that the EU will intervene. ?What can they do?? asked Mr Jeagers.
Belgium"s state secretary for mobility and public works told the event the industry needed ?new blood?. When Belgium takes over the rotating EU presidency in the second half of this year it work seek to attract professionals from other sectors to inland waterways, he said.