WELFARE services at ports across Britain should be funded by a mandatory levy on all ships, a Southampton-based charity has said.

A major report from the Merchant Navy Welfare Board, launched in Westminster last night, says charities expect to spend £4.8m this year alone on seafarers' welfare.

The charity - which is marking its 75th anniversary - is now calling on Government to bring in a mandatory port levy to fund facilities, which can include pastoral support.

The MNWB has written to maritime minister Baroness Vere saying a levy should be imposed and reinvested into providing crucial long-term welfare support for seafarers.

Welfare support provided at various ports includes seafarer centres offering refreshments, volunteers and transport.

A major paper published today by the MNWB - the UK Port Welfare Provision Report - found just eight per cent of UK ports have a voluntary levy scheme.

Some 61 per cent of major and minor ports do not have a seafarers’ centre.

Stuart Rivers, the Chief Executive of the MNWB, said the UK is ‘falling behind’ other nations that have already put in a levy.

He said: “A welfare levy of this kind is what the sector needs and would be a game changer for seafarers’ welfare in the UK.

“We want to drive welfare standards and demonstrate leadership in the global maritime industry.”

He added: “For 75 years, the MNWB has been at the forefront of working with maritime charities and organisations to ensure welfare services are available to all UK merchant seafarers and their dependents.

“Providing connectivity, transport and centres to millions of seafarers and fishers who spend months away from their friends and family is absolutely crucial to their welfare.

“But to continue this first-class support in the midst of charities facing increasing challenges to fundraising, a legislation of this kind whereby funding responsibility falls to those companies who employ seafarers, could save the welfare sector from crippling.

“Seafarers keep the global economy alive, and they are an asset to any shipowner. Let’s treat them as well as possible.

“Welfare is a matter of the heart, not the pocket.”

Romania, Germany and New Zealand have funded schemes in place.