Union warns decline of Merchant Navy is leaving UK economy ‘dangerously dependent’ on foreign fleets

Posted: 3 Oct 2016

The continuing decline in the number of British seafarers and UK-flagged vessels is putting the nation’s economic security at risk and could leave it ‘dangerously dependent’ on other countries for many essential goods, according to maritime trade union Nautilus International.

Last year the UK exported goods and services worth £512 billion. However, the United Kingdom ranks 20th in the global rankings of ship registrations with just 0.8 per cent of the world’s total tonnage and is in danger of losing its reputation as a global maritime leader.

To protect the industry and reaffirm the UK’s reputation as a maritime nation, Nautilus International has created a 10-point charter calling on the UK Government and maritime industry to secure the UK’s maritime future by delivering decent work and training opportunities for British seafarers now before our seafaring skills and fleet are lost forever.

Since 1975 the number of seafarers active in the UK has fallen by 75 per cent. Nautilus International predicts that unless more is done to protect jobs and skills in the sector, Britain’s Merchant Navy will become so depleted that our economy could be held to ransom by other nations with stronger shipping industries.

Almost everything we use, consume and wear in the UK comes to us by sea and estimates suggest that the direct contribution to the economy from the maritime sector was at least £11 billion in 2012. Many sectors rely on the industry, including any business that imports and exports, as well as the lucrative industry-services businesses such as ship brokering, finance, classification, insurance and legal. It has been estimated that every job on a ship supports 50 on land.

Speaking ahead of Nautilus International’s annual branch conference, which is taking place in Cardiff tomorrow (Tuesday, October 4) the union’s general secretary, Mark Dickinson, pictured left, said: “Ninety-five per cent of all our goods are brought to us by ship. Without our own shipping industry, we would become dangerously dependent on the fleets of other nations for the supply of critical goods, including food, oil and gas for heating, and even military equipment. Those countries would then have the power to hold us to ransom by controlling the volume and price of goods entering or leaving UK ports through the manipulation of shipping rates or ocean carrier services, a hostile strategy known as ‘sea strangulation’.

“Now, with the UK Referendum outcome to leave the European Union, we have a unique opportunity to set ambitious goals for the protection and future of the country’s maritime industries. Our 10-point Charter for Jobs must be at the forefront of any strategy or manifesto to promote the UK’s maritime sector and ensure the delivery of decent work and training opportunities for our seafarers.”

The charter includes increasing the level of support given to seafarers and shipping companies to pay for training, as well as calling for Government reviews of the system for allowing foreign seafarers to work onboard British vessels and the tax system to encourage shipowners to join the UK flag.

Mr Dickinson continued: “Those who campaigned to leave the EU made big promises about the future and the opportunities Brexit would bring to British workers. For that to become reality, we’re faced with renegotiating dozens of trade deals with our neighbours and seeking new deals with countries as far afield as Australia. Without shipping those trade deals simply won't deliver.

“In 1987 the Transport Committee reported on the  catastrophic decline of UK seafarer numbers, saying ‘the time for action has arrived’. Almost 30 years later and the continued decline since then means action is now long overdue.”

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