This week in THIS ISLAND NATION .... recession affects sailing ... when is it safe for ships to leave port ... an Irish refuge for skates... offshore exploration to increase and new protection for whales ...
RECESSION AFFECTING SAILING
As we face into a New Year I hear from sailing clubs in a number of places around the country that maintaining membership in the recession is likely to be a major challenge in the months ahead, while others involved in the marine leisure sector are also preparing plans for coping with its effects. The pattern appears to vary from one location to another, with some evidence that boatyards and marinas are also experiencing different affects, as are boat sales.
From what I am being told – and I would be interested to hear the views of readers – it seems that, where good cost deals can be found, some owners are opting to keep their boats in the water at marinas offering special occupancy rates for winter where berths, vacant because regular holders have hauled out. At the same time some yards seem to be finding that 'hauling-out' numbers are down, while others tell me regular customers are continuing to store afloat for the winter. There is also some evidence of cutbacks on spending for improvements or even maintenance where owners are opting to do it themselves when they had not done so before. As I say, the pattern is uneven around the coast, but it is not surprising that costs are determining decisions by owners.
From around the country I hear that club committees are giving particular attention to maintaining membership. Several clubs have told me that membership fees have not been changed for a few years and that this approach will be maintained. The Royal Cork Yacht Club in Crosshaven which last year introduced a monthly membership system as a response to the economic problems is taking a pro-active approach following a membership survey and a members' forum. Overall membership numbers are holding up reasonably well, but they have been examining the mix within categories and found, as is the case in other clubs, that the costs of family membership are a concern.
A number of clubs have told me that that, where previously an entire family would join and even the non-sailors would be included, it has become noticeable that only the family members who are active in sailing are joining. This reflects families watching expenditure closely, a situation likely to get more intense when the Government's swingeing Budgetary attacks on family incomes come into effect. All clubs need to hold onto current members and encourage new ones, particularly younger entrants to the sport, which has an ageing profile in several parts of the coast. The RCYC has decided to respond by reducing the costs of family and ordinary membership. Members over 65 face an increase of 50 per cent as a result, but their cost will still be less than half that of younger members. Those over 75 are not charged a membership fee.
"We have recognised concerns expressed by members and are making the adjustments," RCYC Admiral Peter Deasy has said.
The recessionary financial impacts are, without doubt, going to make 2013 a difficult one in monetary circumstances for many families and individuals. As a result, sporting activities and the costs of them may feel the impact.
Exploration – MORE ACTIVITY OFF IRELAND
Ireland has one of the most favourable financial arrangements for oil and gas exploration in the world. No matter what 'spin' the Government puts on the issue that is the reality. The Government can justify these arrangements on the basis that four decades of drilling has yielded just two major commercial finds – Kinsale Gas and the Corrib Field. Exploration is an expensive business and commercial returns need some degree of assurance. At present profits from oil and gas production in Irish waters are taxed at 25 per cent, twice the standard corporate rate, but could increase to 40 per cent for a particularly lucrative find. However, that taxation level is levied only after companies are able to write-off considerable levels of costs involved in the exploration. In the coming year it will be interesting to see how things develop as there have been undeveloped finds in Irish waters which were not considered commercial in the past, but the different energy world of today is changing how those discoveries are now viewed.
The Providence discovery of the Barryroe Field off West Cork and the prediction that it could provide at least 280 million barrels of oil has raised considerable interest. Exxon Mobil, the major oil and gas group which owns over 27 per cent of what is known as the Dunquin Prospect in the southern part of the Porcupine Basin, has indicated that it will undertake exploratory drilling about a hundred miles off the south-west coast in Block 44. Indications are that this could cost in the region of €70m. or more. That is a lot of investment money but the company's profits in 2011 were put at 41 billion dollars. The Barryroe Field is on Block 48. In the 80s there was quite a bit of exploratory drilling around the Celtic Sea off the South Coast, with a few indication of hydrocarbons being present. Market conditions prevailing then – energy prices and other cost factors – decided the companies involved that it was not worth pursuing the prospects. But times are different now, so 2013 could be an interesting year for exploration and how the Government of this cash-strapped nation will be proved right or wrong in the financial attractions it has offered to exploration companies.
Fishing – SKATES TAKE REFUGE
Marine scientists from Bangor and Queen's Universities in the North and the Marine Institute in Galway have discovered a natural refuge for the endangered species of flapper skate in the Celtic Sea. Small areas of seabed which have below-average fishing because of uneven areas that make trawling difficult are providing the refuge in the North-East of the Celtic Sea. EU regulations require fishermen to put back into the sea any flapper skate which are caught. However, the major problem is that slow growth and reproduction biological patterns amongst these fish mean that even low levels of fishing mortality are a serious danger to the future of the species.
Shipping – WHEN TO SAIL
Pressures on Ships' Captains from owners to sail even in bad weather is a contentious issue, as to whether the Master of the vessel has the overall authority of making the decision or the commercial demands of the owner dictate. Now a Russian shipowner has been charged with causing the deaths of nine crew aboard a cargoship that sank in the Sea of Okhotsk in November. The 611 dwt. vessel is alleged to have been overloaded and authorities in Russia have said that the charges follow on the owner's insistence that the ship sail despite bad weather and improper cargo procedures.
Environment – NEW PROTECTION FOR WHALES
Whales are to get more protection off the Californian coast in the USA where the United Nations' safety at sea body, the International Maritime Organisation, has approved new ship traffic rules designed to protect slow-moving endangered whales from ship collisions. These make changes on the approaches to San Francisco Bay and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and in the Santa Barbara Channel.
Migrating blue, fin and humpback whales are prone to ship strikes since they are often lured to the California shoreline by plentiful krill. All three species are endangered. In 2010, five whales died in ship accidents in the area outside San Francisco Bay. Los Angeles and Long Beach ports handle more than twice as much shipping container traffic as any other USA port.
"This is a win-win situation for maritime safety and whale protection," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in the USA.
Tom MacSweeney on Twitter: @TomMacSweeney