Originally published in Lloyd's List, 18 December 2009.

Baltic Max Feeder, the planned compensation scheme for laid-up ships, has come closer to implementation, according to one of the people who drafted the plans, writes Katrin Berkenkopf.

"We have laid the foundation for the next phases. The ball is now back in the banks' court," said shipping tax adviser Hermann Neemann.

Mr Neemann told Lloyd's List that owners had to date expressed interest in about 350 ships participating in the scheme. "The number is rising every day," he said.

Although these were not yet firm commitments, it was important to demonstrate that owners supported the plans, Mr Neeman added.

It was "realistic" to expect Baltic Max Feeder to be operational by early 2010 and make compensation payments for laid-up ships retroactively from 1 January, he said.

The latest version of the scheme envisages a total financing demand of €180m ($259m). That would apply initially to 100 ships without employment. Owners would have to make contributions of €60m between now and the end of 2011, with the banks contributing another €120m.

The Baltic Max Feeder scheme was modified significantly following initial concerns it might break European cartel law. Under this law, approval prior to taking up operations is not possible. Instead, Brussels will monitor the process and deal with possible cartel complaints.

Anthony Woolich, competition partner at Holman Fenwick Willan, said: "Agreements to reduce capacity and set minimum prices typically infringe competition law. in such cases it can be difficult to show benefit to customers which might merit an exemption."

According to shipbroker Torsten Westphal, tramp owner Peter Döhle may participate in the scheme with up to 40 vessels.

Mr Westphal was optimistic about the progress of the Baltic Max Feeder project. "The banks were pleasantly surprised about how little it will cost them, compared with how much money they could lose," he said.

Mr Westphal's remarks came during a presentation by Oltmann Gruppe, the Leer-based KG financier. It has just closed a bargain fund, having collected €36m.

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