In particularly picturesque parts of Europe, the “value” of the scenery is sometimes expressed in monetary terms, in order to provide some subsidy to farmers to maintain and even enhance this value. The principle, at least in theory, has been applied to transport with the suggestion that it should be possible to compute the “real” costs of one mode to compare it to others.

In Australia, for instance, there is some interesting work being done on what might be considered the secondary costs of moving the lion’s share of interstate cargo by road. Such a computation would, in addition to considering the routine operational and capital costs of road haulage – the fuel, wear and tear of machinery and labour – some of the matters that tend to be conveniently forgotten. This list would include the huge costs of road repairs, the costs of congestion on highways full of heavy transport  and not insignificantly, the surprising costs of road accidents, which are depressingly frequent and, involving huge trucks, frequently fatal.

At present, shippers tend to elect to use trucks on account of their cheapness and convenience, as compared to ships, which are regarded as slow and expensive. However, the research indicates that if these “hidden” costs of road transport were monetised and included, the gulf between the modes would be considerably narrowed. Added to this, the technical advances that have taken place in both ro-ro and container trades, with very rapid cargo handling in port, also indicate that the sea transport option could be a good deal faster than many people think.

In this research, the lessons gained in recent years in Europe have found a receptive audience in the Australian maritime sector. In particular, the European Commission’s Motorways of the Sea scheme, which has assisted in the start up period in a number of what are now successful ferry routes, has been regarded with some interest. Additionally, the environmental benefits of transferring truck journeys on overcrowded roads to the empty sea around the coasts commend themselves to many.

It is one thing to undertake research on these matters, another entirely to see successful coastal sea services emerge. It is recognised that much of the European successes stem from the financial strength of some of the sea carriers, who are big enough to build a new service, have suitable ships available and who have the capability of “convincing and converting” attitudes of cargo interests, who have always used road haulage.

There have been conspicuous successes in the development of coastal bulk around the European coasts, using scaled up tonnage, with self-discharging equipment. However, the record of smaller players, who have attempted to begin a new service, but have been unable to stay the course, can be very different, and it is these failures which are thought to influence the situation in Australia, with a very limited number of players. But the fact that serious consideration is being given to the shipping alternative, must be positive.

Author: the Watchkeeper                  Source:BIMCO.