Stena Line May Reflag UK Vessels Following Brexit

File image courtesy Ziko van Dijk

Published Jun 29, 2016 9:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK-based mariners' union Nautilus International has issued a statement calling on British shipowners to remain calm and move slowly following the recent national referendum on exiting the EU (the "Brexit" vote). 

The union said that Sweden-based ferry operator Stena Line has already warned members that it may flag out its roughly 30 UK-registered vessels as a result of the Leave vote. Stena's CEO was a signatory to an open petition against the measure, and the firm signaled its intention to reflag several days before the referendum – telling Radio Sweden that as it is an EU business, its vessels must be home-ported in the EU, not in an independent UK. 

Stena has about 8,000 employees in Britain, and the firm did not immediately discuss its plans for continued operations in an independent UK – but the Brexit could mean reduced freight and passenger traffic on cross-Channel routes. 

Nautilus did not cite other maritime employers in its announcement. 

In its statement, Nautilus also singled out the UK Chamber of Shipping for its neutrality both before and after the Brexit referendum. General secretary Mark Dickinson said he hoped the chamber "could provide reassurance and leadership;" he expressed surprise that it had remained neutral when other prominent figures had warned of adverse effects for the UK maritime sector.

Dickinson called on Chamber CEO Guy Platten to send a message that industry was committed "to shared policy objectives of growing the national flag fleet and regenerating the pool of British seafarers."

"Many of our members have made huge sacrifices to retain their jobs and to ensure the survival of their companies. It is essential that they are given an emphatic signal of support from shipowners and that concerns are not fuelled by rash statements or pre-emptive actions," Dickinson said. 

Following the vote, the Chamber reiterated its neutrality in a statement and called on the government to move swiftly on reaching new trade agreements. 

Separately, analysts with Alphaliner released a report Wednesday suggesting that the impact of the Brexit on the nation's container shipping operators would be minimal, as the sector is already much diminished. "UK-flagged containerships today account for only four percent of global vessel capacity, while UK-controlled containerships account for as little as two of the global fleet in TEU terms,” Alphaliner said. “Capacity operated by UK carriers is even smaller at 0.2 percent."

In Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron issued unequivocal statements Wednesday on the prospect that the Brexit might occur in name only, or that the UK might hold a second referendum. Chancellor Merkel said that a nominal exit was "impossible . . . as of tonight I do not see any possibility to reverse this decision. It is not the hour for wishful thinking," she told the Times.