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River fills with laid-up ships as credit crunch bites hard

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: January 13, 2009

  • The bulk carriers Challenger II and Adventure II laid-up in the River Fal at Tolverne. Inset: On a freezing January morning, a car transport ship and two banana boats are laid-up. Picture: Geoff Hichens

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JUST weeks since the global financial crisis began to bite, every lay-up berth for shipping in the River Fal will soon be full.

There are currently nine ships laid-up near Tolverne and the King Harry Ferry, including bulk carriers, car carriers, and refrigerated cargo ships, and two more are expected soon.

Truro harbourmaster Andy Brigden said: "We are full, unless we start looking elsewhere to moor up, which we have no plans to do for the moment.

"Each of the lay-ups has a different story to tell about the recession, for example the car carriers are here because of the dramatic fall in car sales and are expected to be here for 12 to 18 months.

"But the refrigerated cargo ships, which usually carry fruit such as bananas, are here because they have had writs served on them after the banks foreclosed on the loans taken out to buy them.

"For example, one of the ships was bought with the help of a £12 million loan, which the banks have called in after the owners missed a monthly payment."

Capt Brigden said this number of lay-ups had not been seen since the recession of the 1980s. Although it could bring up to £150,000 a year in additional income for the port, Capt Brigden is sad to see them here.

He explained: "From a mariner's perspective it's not good, because each member of the crew who is out of work, wherever they come from, will lose earnings and will probably still have a family to support. They will be finding life extremely difficult.

"And the remaining skeleton crews left on board the laid-up ships will not find it easy. The ships are basically shut down with limited facilities and when temperatures plummet, as they did last week to -10 degrees, it won't be pleasant for them.

"The ships' agents will look after them, and we are playing our part in also ensuring that people are looked after, but our hearts go out to them."

Laid-up ships have traditionally been regarded as the barometer of the global economy. But the credit crunch also has a downside for the port of Truro, not least because shipping company Coastal Bulk Shipping, which until Christmas had an office in the port and rented warehouse space, also ceased trading before Christmas.

Capt Bridgen said: "This is all the result of the recession. When there are no ships laid-up on the Fal the world's economy is generally doing well, and when the ships are laid-up the opposite is happening and they're waiting to be profitable again.

"Shipping companies are finding the going particularly tough and there's unfortunately no end to this in sight."

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