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08 December 2021 The on-line newspaper devoted to the world of transports 13:45 GMT+1



An ongoing problem

The problem of illegal immigration and stowaways in European transport is unlikely to diminish in the near future. While the solution to the problem should come from an efficient grip on illegal human trafficking by international criminal gangs, carriers' liability is increasingly used as a tool to fight against this phenomenon.

The shipping industry has done its utmost to prevent the boarding of stowaways on their vessels through enhanced and sophisticated controls in terminals and on board of their vessels before sailing. Notwithstanding these efforts and the high costs involved, shipowners are often penalised if stowaways nevertheless succeed in hiding on board and are found at their intended destination.

This situation is unacceptable. Indeed, it is in the first instance the responsibility of the national authorities (police, customs, legal authorities, etc.) to ensure that illegal immigrants do not enter at EU borders.

Whilst shipowners are committed to playing their full part, carriers' liability should be proportionate and the principle of fair play should be respected. The ECSA passenger ferry operators have this issue high on their agenda and look forward to a Workshop, organised by the transport industry, in Brussels on 30 November in co-operation with the Commission services and the relevant Authorities of Member States, where this sensitive issue will be discussed. Hopefully, Codes of Conduct and co-operation with the Authorities can be developed, thereby abolishing undue penalties.

ECSA also strongly supports the work carried out within the Facilitation Committee of IMO. The Committee is expected to adopt a number of changes to the Facilitation Convention in January 2002 which are likely to contribute to the strengthening of the provisions relating to the handling of stowaways by Governments.


Practical solutions emerging

Over the last year ECSA has continued to draw the attention of Member States and the Commission to the practical problems facing European ferry companies in the arrangements for duty paid sales to travellers making intra EU journeys following the abolition of duty free sales in July 1999. The obligation under the current arrangements to close shops for part of the journey has caused significant difficulties to operators, particularly those on the short sea cross-channel routes between France and the UK. The need to tackle such problems is important in light of the undoubted adverse economic and social consequences experienced by ferry companies and their employees as a result of abolition.

While ECSA would hope that the Commission and Member States will review the existing legislation in the longer term in order to establish a favourable EU wide regime for mobile operators, there has been welcome practical progress in recent months. In particular, in March the UK Government published a series of recommendations to improve the practical arrangements following a Post Implementation Review in which industry was extensively consulted. Involving a series of bilateral agreements with Member States, it is envisaged that the initiative should result in significant improvements in facilitating duty paid sales on board ships on many intra EU routes.

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