FRENCH ports are Europe's most expensive for discharging crude oil, according to a study by the French oil industry. The French Union for the Petroleum Industry (UFIP) said that the high cost of calling at French ports is crippling the industry. The oil industry group said French ports should lower the costs for oil tankers, or risk losing traffic to other European ports, such as Rotterdam. Tanker owners are also complaining about the high costs of French ports. Antifer, near Le Havre, is one of only three or four European ports able to handle the world's largest tankers which weigh 300,000 deadweight tonnes (dwt) or more. Seatramp senior chartering specialist Gordon Pentecost said charges at Antifer are much higher than at Rotterdam. A few days ago, for example, Antifer's charge for unloading 410,000 tonnes of crude from the Hellespont Grand, a 421,681-dwt vessel, was about US$580,000, whereas charges at Rotterdam would have been closer to US$450,000, according to Mr Pentecost. According to the UFIP study, French ports cost on average three to four francs (about HK$4.77 to HK$6.36) per tonne of crude oil, or 70 to 80 per cent more than the rates charged by other European ports. Overall, the group estimates that French oil refineries pay between 200 million to 250 million French francs more per year to call at French ports than if they were to call at other ports for their crude oil imports. The study is based on 126 calls at French and European ports by oil tankers belonging to six companies: BP, Elf, Esso, Mobil, Shell and Total. It found that higher costs in France are due mainly to port charges and taxes, which are 130 to 190 per cent higher than those at foreign ports. When it comes to towing charges, however, the industry pays about 20 per cent less in France than it does at other European ports. In its study, the UFIP included a wide variety of vessels ranging from ultra-large and very-large crude carriers to smaller tankers in the 30,000 to 80,000 dwt range. For tankers of 100,000 dwt or more, the cost of calling at French ports is 84 per cent higher than it is at other European ports. Port charges and taxes for such vessels were 136 per cent higher. The difference is about 70 per cent for smaller size vessels, with port charges and taxes up to 192 per cent higher than at foreign ports for 30,000 dwt vessels. The cost of towing large vessels is almost 20 per cent higher at French ports than in other European countries. Oil companies save up to 28 per cent on towing charges in France for smaller vessels. The most expensive ports of call for oil tankers are Donges, Antifer, Dunkirk and Le Havre. For supertankers, Donges is five times more expensive than Italy's Genoa, the cheapest port studied, per ton of discharge. French oil refineries say the higher costs paid at French ports, when added to higher French wages and taxes, caused a one billion-franc handicap for the sector. UFIP says the seven largest oil refineries and distributors in France lost 239 million francs last year.