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High seas drama Swiss merchant navy finds itself in deep water

The Swiss cargo ship St. Cergue Basel taken in 1985

The Swiss cargo ship St Cergue Basel taken in 1985

(Keystone)

Canton Bern’s Office of the Attorney General has opened a criminal investigation into suspected irregularities surrounding the funding of Switzerland’s merchant navy. On Tuesday, parliamentary committees also released a critical report on the state of the merchant fleet. 

On Tuesday morning, premises in cantons Bern and Vaud were searched by investigators, and a man was arrested in Bern. A probe has been launched after a criminal complaint was filed, the Bern office said on Tuesday. Investigators suspect that excessively high construction and purchase prices were submitted when applications were made for financial guarantees for seagoing vessels. 

On Tuesday, parliamentary management committees at the Federal Palace said problems surrounding the Swiss merchant fleet had been considered too late. They criticised the passive attitude of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER).

+ The Swiss merchant navy recently celebrated its 75th anniversary 

The Swiss maritime commercial fleet consists of 29 ocean-going cargo vessels financed by guaranteed loans until 2031. The authorities have issued guarantees totalling CHF770 million ($777 million) for ships under the Swiss flag.  

However, since 2008, the maritime sector has been in financial crisis. Bern parliamentarians complained that the Federal Office for National Economic Supply (FONES) did not correctly inform the DEFR of the problems the Swiss fleet was facing until June 2015 when the crisis escalated.

Last year, it was revealed that thirteen ships have been sold at a loss – costing the Swiss government CHF215 million. In December 2017, it announced it wanted to sell two more. 

If necessary, the Swiss government can commandeer Swiss commercial ships to ensure the landlocked country’s economic needs. This is why the Swiss maritime fleetexternal link was established in 1941, and why federal coffers help keep the boats afloat. 

SDA-ATS/sb

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