Finland to refund navigation dues amounting to EUR 37 million next year
A total of EUR 37 million has been appropriated in the government’s 2009 budget proposal for the refund of navigation dues, as a legally valid decision made by the Helsinki Administrative Court states that the system determining the fees has discriminated against international seaborne transport.
Apparently nobody knows the exact amount of forthcoming refunds. It all depends on how many shipping companies get the message and fill in the appropriate forms in order to file a claim. So far no carrier has done that.
Actually the shipping companies’ right to claim a refund applies only to part of the fees.
According to the court ruling, the refund in question would mean the difference between the domestic and foreign route fees until the end of 2005, as the system was amended from the beginning of 2006.
The Ministry of Transport and Communications states in its memorandum that based on the decision made by the Helsinki Administrative Court, the aggregate amount of refunds for 2005 could be EUR 34 million at most.
The calculation is based on the fact that according to the period of limitation for tax refunds, the right to claim a refund is applicable to all fees paid in 2005. Hence, the appeal period for navigation dues also covers the year 2005.
In addition, about EUR 1.5 million could accrue from previous claims for a refund that are pending in administrative courts.
According to the ministerial memorandum, it could also be possible to demand the rectification of pre-2005 navigation dues. The maximum refundable amount for 2003 and 2004 could be around EUR 63 million.
The Ministry of Transport and Communications estimated that the grand total would amount something in the region of EUR 100 million.
The issue is attributable to the decisions made by the Helsinki Administrative Court on three complaints relating to navigation dues. The court ruled that the complaints be returned to the Customs in order to be re-drafted.
The complaints in question appealed against the decisions made by the Finnish Maritime Administration, according to which the authority had refused to make the vessels’ fees equitable.
Initially, the dues levied on the vessels had been too low, as the information on ships had been incorrect, whereupon the Maritime Administration had not consented to amend the retroactive collection for reasons of equity.
The Helsinki Administrative Court justified its decision by saying that the entire system of navigation dues was discriminative.
Until 2006, Finland imposed higher fees on ships in international transport than on vessels which sailed between Finnish harbours, even though both groups received the same services.
The administrative court pointed out that such discrimination was inconsistent with the Single European Act from 1986.
In 1994, the European Court of Justice ruled against France for favouring its domestic waterways. In 2003, Finland was admonished by the European Commission for the country’s discriminative navigation due system.
Why was the legislation not amended when Finland entered the European Union? Maybe the issue was just overlooked, the Ministry assumes.
Since Finland joined the European Union, the Navigation Dues Act has been amended twice. In 2002 the issue of discrimination was ignored, but in 2006 the act was finally corrected.
Perhaps the most embarrassing aspect of the whole business is that now even those who were evading paying navigation dues will be entitled to put in a claim for a refund.
According to a recent report issued by the National Audit Office of Finland, a total of EUR 61,427,860 in dues were never collected from those vessels which had paid too little and were pardoned.
Dues are based on the size of the vessel and particularly on its ice-class: ships with poor hull strengthening to enable them to make passage through sea ice will face a considerably higher bill.
In many cases, ships were found to be of a lower ice-class than their documents indicated, such that they were paying less in dues than they should.
National Audit Office of Finland
Ice class (Wikipedia)
Finnish Maritime Administration
Ministry of Transport and Communications