Digest>Archives> March 2004

Light Reflections

How Do They Keep the Lighthouses On?

By Sharma Krauskopf


A question I get asked many times when I am back in the USA talking to lighthouse groups is, “How does Scotland finance the continued operation of the their lighthouses?” The answer is quite simple. As I have mentioned before the lighthouses in Scotland and the Isle of Man are operated by The Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB), which is not a government agency. Charging light dues on ships entering Scottish ports supports their activities. Following is a detailed explanation from Douglas Gorman Director of Finance for the NLB that appeared in Northern Lighthouse Board Journal, Christmas 2003.

The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland operate a cost recovery approach to the funding of marine aids to navigation around our coasts. This cost recovery is made through the levying of light dues on ships entering British and Irish ports. There is a scale of charges for different types of vessel. The scheme has been extensively modified over the years in response to changes in trading patterns and to meet funding requirements. Current payments are either periodic or per voyage. For example, a fishing vessel pays £190 per year plus £20 for each metre in length over 10 metres. A large oil tanker, on the other hand, pays per voyage based on its net tonnage—40p per ton. Some of the changes made include:

* The introduction of a “tonnage cap” at 40,000 tons from 1st April 2002. This means that vessels over this tonnage will pay a maximum of £16,000(40p x 40,000 tons) and benefits larger vessels.

* In any year, a vessel is not required to pay light dues for more than seven voyages and this benefits vessels on regular trading patterns e.g. ferries.

The General Lighthouse Fund needs to raise over £70M each year to support the operations of the three General Lighthouse Authorities (Trinity House in England, Commissioners of Irish Lights, and Northern Lighthouse Board). The bulk of this income comes from light dues although the Fund also receives a contribution from the Republic of Ireland Government together with income from buoy contracts, etc.

We monitor light dues income very closely as 2/3 of light dues collected in Scotland and the Isle of Man comes from oil tanker traffic and over 1/3 comes from tankers over 40,000 tons. This is a very different distribution from the rest of the British Isles.

We see many huge fishing vessels passing by the lighthouse, especially during the herring season. But the largest numbers of ships seen from Eshaness are the gigantic oil tankers on their way to Sullom Voe one of the largest oil terminals in Europe. From the lighthouse they look like tiny dots on the horizon even though I know they are monster ships and definitely paying maximum light dues.

We often laugh and say Eshaness Lighthouse will be one of the last lighthouses left operating in Scotland because in a monetary sense we serve the clientele who spend the most for lighthouse services.

When we bought Eshaness and I wrote my best selling book The Last Lighthouse there were many reasons for the title, including it was the last lighthouse we would look at in our frustrating search as well as the last manned lighthouse built by a member of the Stevenson family of lighthouse engineers. What I did not know at the time was it also might be one of the last operating lighthouses in Scotland because of the revenue NLB receives from all the oil tankers who sail to the Shetland Islands.

This story appeared in the March 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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