With the decline of once peerless merchant, naval and fishing fleets, Britain’s maritime heritage may be gravely imperilled, but it is not yet extinct.
The City of London still maintains a leading role in shipping finance, marine insurance, ship broking and cargo services. It is supported by law firms specialising in maritime claims and contracts, and marine consultants with a wide range of expertise.
Almost all maritime contracts are written in English law, and disputes are adjudicated under the Admiralty division or by Arbitration, mostly in London. Shipbuilding may have left the Tyne and Clyde, but British manufacturers are still successfully designing, building and exporting superyachts and marine equipment.
The list of topclass maritime accomplishments is still long
The UK also retains a leading role in ocean sciences, with some of the world’s best maritime academic institutions and three leading professional institutions covering naval architecture, marine engineering and nautical disciplines. Lloyd’s Register is the world’s largest classification society, surveying ships and overseeing standards. The international circulation of the British nautical press is unmatched. Rewarding nautical careers are still open – from port operations to offshore engineering and support vessel management. The UK’s Marine Bill has opened up new challenges for resource management, and marine archaeology has a growing following. Maritime history and strategic studies figure prominently in universities and naval staff courses.
The list of top-class maritime accomplishments is still long, but if Britain is to retain a leading position in any of these areas, it must continue to attract recruits. In this respect it faces three interlinked challenges:
- Theoretical and maritime legal knowledge needs to be complemented by seagoing experience. With fewer opportunities on British merchant ships, this means wider international co-operation.
- In a sector that still has its dangers, and can leave seafarers inadequately provided for, it remains important to look after the welfare of those most in need.
- To be more effective in supporting the education and training of marine staff, and providing the best welfare service possible, maritime charitable organisations can be more effective if they pool their resources.
The Maritime Foundation, alongside Seafarers UK, Seavision UK, and The Marine Society, supported by Trinity House, is joining forces with other charitable organisations and industrial bodies to improve the image of the maritime sector, and solve some of the longer-term problems that, if neglected, will only worsen.