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Brussels, 10 April 2003

European Commission promotes Short Sea Shipping and new intermodal equipment to fight congestion

The Commission today adopted a programme for the promotion of Short Sea Shipping along with a proposal for a directive to standardise new Intermodal Loading Units (ILU) which will greatly facilitate intermodal freight transport. Loyola de Palacio, Vice-President responsible for transport and energy, emphasised that "Short Sea Shipping has proved to be a transport success story with healthy growth rates and we must ensure this continues. The new plan unveiled today will help provide real alternatives to road congestion through more efficient and more economical use of other transport modes".

The programme presented by the European Commission focuses on 14 actions to enhance the role of Short Sea Shipping in Europe. One specific measure aims at harmonising the considerable number of technical specifications currently existing for swap bodies in trade within the EU which, through their diversity, cause unnecessary additional costs. « This approach is far from being only a technical one : it will have a huge impact to make intermodality a concrete reality » explained Loyola de Palacio.

The short- and medium-term actions in the Short Sea Shipping (SSS) programme will intensify and co-ordinate ongoing activities. Apart from the legal aspects, these activities include measures to facilitate Short Sea Shipping by removing obstacles to its growth and improve its general image by, for instance, supporting the work of the European Short Sea Network. Furthermore, the programme strengthens actions such as developing "motorways of the sea", computerising customs procedures and setting up one-stop administrative shopping in ports. SSS will play a key role in reaching the targets for 2010 contained in the White Paper to curb the growth of road transport, rebalance modal split, bypass land bottlenecks and provide sustainability.

The proposed directive on Intermodal Loading Units will mean that in future, standardised, safer, more efficient and stackable equipment will enable easier transfer of freight from one mode of transport to another. The directive will enable all Intermodal Loading Units (ILU) circulating in Europe to be maintained and be subject to the periodic checks foreseen also for international traffic in the Convention for safe containers. It also aims to harmonise aspects of new Intermodal Loading Units after the definition of applicable standards by the European Committee for Standardisation. In particular, maintenance and handling of Intermodal Loading Units will be easier, allowing for substantial productivity gains. Finally, the Directive will enable greater security for new intermodal loading units through requirements for use of state-of-the-art alarms (for instance electronic seals) to counter break-in.

The text adopted today by the Commission proposes another important measure: the creation of European intermodal loading units (EILU), a unit optimised for the transport of palettes, the most usual condition for goods using Intermodal Loading Units The European intermodal loading units combines the advantages of swap bodies (especially their larger size, offering a greater capacity) and containers (especially their greater strength and the possibilities to stack them). At this stage, the use of the last will not be made obligatory.

The Intermodal Loading Units and European intermodal loading units will have to meet specific requirements, and the European Committee for Standardisation will be mandated to elaborate the standards necessary. These mandatory standards will then be adopted by a Regulatory Committee.

The following will then be able to circulate in Europe:

    ISO standard containers respecting the maximum dimensions authorised by Directive 96/53.

    The Intermodal Loading Units still in service at the date of introducing the standards until the end of their life;

    The new Intermodal Loading Units and European intermodal loading units, developed to facilitate transhipments between road, rail, waterways and short sea shipping.

For more information on intermodal freight transport please see the following web page:


14 measures to promote short sea shipping

    A. Legislative Actions

      1. Implementation of the Directive on certain reporting formalities for ships to arrive in and/or depart from ports in the Member States (IMO-FAL),

    2. Implementation of Marco Polo,

    3. Standardisation and harmonisation of intermodal loading units,

    4. Motorways of the Sea,

    5. Improving the environmental performance of Short Sea Shipping.

    B. Technical Actions

    6. Guide to Customs Procedures for Short Sea Shipping,

      7. Identification and elimination of obstacles to making Short Sea Shipping more successful than it is today,

      8. Approximation of national applications and computerisation of Community Customs procedures,

    9. Research and Technological Development.

    C. Operational Actions

    10. One-stop administrative shops,

    11. Ensuring the vital role of Short Sea Shipping Focal Points,

      12. Ensuring good functioning of and guidance to Short Sea Promotion Centres,

      13. Promote the image of Short Sea Shipping as a successful transport alternative,

    14. Collection of statistical information.


Short sea shipping is a growth industry

Already today Short Sea Shipping is highly successful and it is the only mode that has proved able to keep up with the growth of road transport. It performs 41% of all tonne-kilometres in Europe while the share of road transport is 43%. Its growth rate is above that of European Union industrial production and its tonne-kilometre performance grew by up to 38% in the 1990's as compared to 40% growth in road transport.

[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

Figure 1: Tonne-kilometre growth 1990-2000 in percent in road, Short Sea Shipping

    1 See the European Short Sea Network website at:

    2 "European transport policy for 2010: time to decide", adopted by the Commission 12 September 2001. For further information see the following web site:

    3 International Convention for Safe Containers, 1972 (CSC)

    4 Council Directive 96/53/EC of 25 July 1996 laying down for certain road vehicles circulating within the Community the maximum authorized dimensions in national and international traffic and the maximum authorized weights in international traffic (as amended).

    5 Short Sea Shipping Focal Points are representatives of national maritime administrations. They are responsible for Short Sea Shipping in their administrations.

    6 Short Sea Promotion Centres (SPCs) or, in other words, national Short Sea Shipping Promotion Bureaux are industry-driven, impartial bodies promoting Short Sea Shipping.

    7 Data for the year 2000, excluding pipelines. Source: EU Energy and Transport in Figures: Statistical Pocketbook 2002.

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