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Complex shipping regulations may slow French offshore

FRANCE: While France's offshore projects progress, the industry is increasingly frustrated on several counts, particularly when it comes to permitting and rules affecting vessels.

Installation vessel: more difficult to register in France (pic: Anthony Woodhouse)
Installation vessel: more difficult to register in France (pic: Anthony Woodhouse)
The permitting process is beset by a lack of clarity and an unwieldy bureaucracy, while regulations surrounding the shipping sector are causing concern, said Hubert Paitard, responsible for institutional relations in the energy and marine infrastructure department at French industrial group DCNS.

Projects have to secure four main authorisations plus various approvals depending on specific circumstances, involving ten or so different administrations and widespread consultations, Paitard told delegates at a recent Marine Renewable Energy Group event in Le Havre.

This means longer delays, greater complexity as the administrations do not always agree, and increased costs. Furthermore, "the technical and environmental derisking of projects is achieved only when the [regional authorities] sign the permit. The developer therefore invests over several years with no stable return," Paitard added.

The government is speeding up the process and reviewing the procedure for the next offshore tender, slated for 2017. However, it could do more. One major step would be to establish a one-stop shop able to speak for all the administrations, giving greater visibility and cutting costs, Paitard argued.

Shipping rules

Also adding to costs are the regulations governing shipping and working practices, which are much stricter than elsewhere in Europe. Without changes to the rules, there will be few French-flagged boats working on French projects, several speakers agreed.

This is partly because vessels working in French waters have to follow French employment law, covering areas such as working hours, holiday entitlement, staffing levels, health and safety, and social security.

As a result, operators have to employ 2.3 crew to cover a single job, said Cecile Bellord, deputy general director of shipowners association Armateurs de France. Foreign-flagged vessels have to follow the same regulations, but it only applies to hours in French waters, so French-flagged vessels have higher costs overall. The regulations in France are "too strict and make it too expensive to be competitive", Bellord said.

Outdated, complex and inconsistent regulations on boat specifications also make it difficult and expensive for French firms to build vessels such as workboats and crew transfer vessels and register them in France.

All French-registered boats over 12 metres fall under the same regulations as much larger vessels, explained Benjamin Bon of Cherbourg-based VDC Offshore.

Foad Zahedi, director general of Jifmar Offshore Services, said: "Companies such as Jifmar want to invest and provide French-flagged boats working in French waters, but are not able to because the system is contradictory." Jifmar recently registered a boat in Luxembourg because it was proving too difficult in France.

There are additional uncertainties surrounding the legal definition of offshore turbines and of installation vessels, which are sometimes more akin to fixed structures. Whether they fall under marine law or not has important repercussions from an environmental perspective and for insurance, Jefferson Larue, a lawyer at legal firm Sajet Avocats said.

Here again, the uncertainty is unhelpful and will inevitably push up costs. France has to decide if it is willing to continue working "with these barriers and inconsistent regulations or build a more coherent framework applying specifically to the offshore industry", Larue argues.

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