With the impending ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) and the squeeze on funding for seafarers' welfare there is increasing focus on port levies as a key source of funding for seafarer centres, ship visiting, and other welfare services in ports. The MLC talks about 'levies or special dues from shipping sources' to pay for port welfare facilities in Guideline B4.4.4. The guideline is in the voluntary (non-compulsory) section of the MLC so port states cannot be forced by the MLC to implement levies.
However, ports can be persuaded to implement a voluntary levy. For example, in Bremerhaven in Germany, a voluntary levy has been in force for some years and has an 80% take up. The levy is based on tonnage and is capped. After six visits in a year the ship is exempt from further welfare levies. A letter about the levy is sent by the port authority and the funds are received by the German Seamans Mission. A substantial amount is raised each year and this represents around a quarter of their annual income. The levy pays for salaries, transport, and other running costs. A new voluntary port levy is being implemented in August in the Indian port of Kandla. The ship agents have been impressed with the work of the Kandla Seafarers Welfare Association (KSWA) over the past three years and have agreed to a levy of 1,000 INR (£12.50) per ship. The funds will be collected by the port authority and passed onto KSWA. There will no restrictions on use so the funds can be used for salaries and other running costs. Around 2,000 ships visit Kandla each year so KSWA expect to raise approximately 200,000 INR (£25,000) per year.
Although voluntary levies maybe preferable some countries have already implemented compulsory levies. In Romania a compulsory levy was introduced in 2002 when the country ratified the ILO convention 163. The levy applies to foreign flagged vessels and depends upon the ship's tonnage. For example, a ship between 5001 and 30,000 tonnes pays €30 while a ship over 100,000 tonnes pay €100. The levy is collected by the port welfare committee in Constantza who invoice the ships agents. The funds are paid into a general welfare account and are used for the running of the seafarer centre including the upkeep of the building, transport for seafarers, salaries, etc. The Government of Bangladesh has agreed legislation to implement a welfare levy of US$15 per ship and this will come into force later this year. Part of the levy will be used to maintain the seafarers drop in centre in the main port of Chittagong. Around 2,000 ships visit Chittagong so least US$30,000 should be raised from the levy.
At a time when funding for seafarers' welfare is becoming more and more difficult to find, port levies can be a key component of sustaining welfare facilities and services in a port. Port levies enable welfare organisations to plan for the future and provide a degree of certainty. They should not be seen as the sole source of funding. It is important that welfare organisations, like other NGO's, have a diverse funding base and do not become over dependent on only one source of funding.
The ICSW is looking at how we bring together information about port levies and how they work. If your port has a levy or intends to implement one, we would like to hear from you. Please contact Roger Harris at email@example.com.