96% of the Finnish foreign trade measured in ton-kilometers is seaborne, and possibilities for transport by other means are limited. Energy production, healthcare, food production and all the main exporting industries are dependent on imported supplies by ships. Therefore, any failure in maritime transport can be very disruptive to companies’ supply chains and to the national security of supply and daily life of people in Finland.
The volumes of cargoes are rather substantial. Consequently the trade has always attracted foreign tonnage. There are some 600 merchant vessels, 1.5 million net tonnage, under the Finnish flag. These numbers also include several passenger ferries. A considerable amount of the tonnage is owned indirectly by companies domiciled in the EU. Regionally and by tradition the most dense concentration of shipowners can be found in the Åland Islands, where shipping is absolutely the most important industry.
The forest industry mainly uses the ports in the north, west and east. The steel industry operates in the north. The ports in the south mainly specialise in general cargo. The biggest oil refinery is also located in the south, and another is located on the west coast. Substantial transit trade is located in the southeast near the Russian border, although strong growth of transit shipments of bulk cargoes to and from ports at the north west coast can be observed. Huge amounts s of consumer goods and vehicles are transited through Finland to Russia, and chemicals and ore concentrates from Russia through Finland to destinations all over the world. The competition for this business is becoming fierce between ports in Finland, Russia and Estonia. For the moment only the deficiencies in the road and railroad infrastructure in Russia slow down the inevitable waning of the transit business. The current reorganising process of the harbour industry will accelerate in the future when the municipal ports must be operated via limited liability companies. The Finnish Business and Policy Forum, a think-tank, has published a study in 2012 according to which there is in the future need only for 10 ports instead of current 52 ports. Also a working group established by the Ministry of Finance published in April 2012 its study regarding operating environment, subsidy and adjustment measures of maritime transport.
The Maritime Codes in the Nordic countries are substantially the same, but not identical. Chapter 13 of the Finnish Maritime Code, which contains the contract of carriage of goods, is based on the Hague-Visby Rules, modified to be as closely in line with the Hamburg Rules as possible. Chapter 13 of the FMC is compulsory for the protection of cargo owners. For the carriage of goods, the carriers tend to prefer the North Sea Standard Conditions of Carriage (NSSCC). The forest, steel and chemical industries prefer tailor-made frame agreements for long periods. The forest industry favors also ICC Shipping Terms. There are seven maritime courts that handle matters covered by the FMC, and one appointed Average Adjuster. For the moment Finland will not sign the Rotterdam rules.
Due to the geographical location, industry in Finland has higher transport costs than its competitors. The immediate concern for the moment is the new emission requirements. The sulfur emissions must be cut to 0,1 percent by 2015, the nitrogen emissions by 2020 and carbon dioxide by 2025. The implementation of the sulfur directive will increase Finnish maritime-bound transport costs at least by 200 up to 1.200 million euro annually. The emission requirements, together with the fact that most of the sea areas are covered by ice during the winter, have forced the incipient mining industry in the northern parts of the country to consider transport routes other than through the Baltic Sea, which is designated as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA).
The wide and rocky archipelago requires good navigational skills. Vessels are obliged to employ pilots and use vessel traffic services when proceeding in Finnish fairways. New amendments to the Pilot Act were entered into force in 2011. Interesting questions regarding the state’s liability for the piloting, VTS and maintaining the fairway infrastructure arise from time to time. The number of accidents is decreasing thanks to the high standard of maritime safety. Perhaps the biggest fear for the authorities and insurers for the moment is a major oil spill from the lively oil transport from Russian oil ports through the Gulf of Finland. The oil tankers are mainly new with double hulls. The risk comes from the crossing traffic or if an accident takes place in ice, when the oil destruction measures are more than challenging.
A new Water Act entered into force on 1 January 2012. The act clarifies the shipowner’s tort liability in specific cases.
Finnish marine and engine officers are highly educated and in demand. However, the Finnish Seamen's Union demands Finnish wage and social security levels to be applied in all vessels sailing to and from Finland irrespective of the flag or the fact the vessel calls Finland perhaps only once in its lifetime. FSU, assisted by longshoremen, often undertakes lightly industrial actions against vessels with other collective agreements. These actions are often not supported by ITF (International Transport Worker’s Federation). Fortunately the courts have commenced granting injunction orders against boycotts after the European Court of Justice rendered its decisions in the Viking Line and Laval cases. The courts have granted injunctions without even requiring applicant guarantees, which would otherwise be the main principle. The attitudes against the longshoremen are also stiffening. According to public opinion the penalties against illegal industrial actions, which the longshoremen are used to exercise should be increased substantially.
A new Maritime Employment Contract Act entered into force on 1 August 2011. In principle, the Act on Enhancing the Competitiveness of Ships engaged in Sea Transports has allowed mixed manning on vessels flying the Finnish flag from 1991. Only now the owners and the union have in fact started to agree on this issue.
Finnish owners have had the right to choose tonnage taxation since 2002, but only one owner has yet chosen the tonnage taxation. Therefore, the government revised the requirements and incentives of the Tonnage Taxation Act in 2009. The commission approved the amendments and the amendments entered into force on 1 March 2012.
The shipbuilding industry has suffered heavily from a lack of new orders after the completion of a couple of gargantuan cruise ships. The focus is now on sophisticated ice breakers and ice- strengthened vessels for the Northern Sea Route., which is the hot topic in the maritime industry for the moment.