The Merchant Navy and the Internet by cmlang

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									by: Ieuan Dolby

A web site dedicated to the writings of the sea, ships and all those that sail on them? It sounds
strange as who knows what the Merchant Navy is or what those at sea actually do all day, those
who work in the Industry that is. Isnt the Merchant Navy something to do with fishing or
fighting? What is interesting about that? Get a real job, some would say and others would ask
and so why havent you got a sun tan. So why would anybody be interested in a web site filled
with things that nobody is interested in beats me.

If one would look through the endless Marine and Nautical webs sites available or if one was to
go to a bookshop and look at the available literature on the subject this is what you might find.
Ten books on the Titanic, dozens of how to sail around the world in a plastic boat with a sail
DIY books and a couple on when I was shipwrecked or and attacked by pirates biographies. This
is all good stuff and I must admit to do with the sea and ships, but oh so very long ago! The
Merchant Navy of today is not about sails and pirates, it is not about sinking ships and
unqualified people sailing the world for adventure, it is not about scurvy and cannibals in foreign
lands and it is definitely not about fishing and catching the nearest ferry to France!

Merchant Navy really started to be recognized as early as the Fifteenth Century. This was when
hard men in little boats, battled the oceans in the name of exploration. "Yes, dear, I will be back
in ten years or so, be good, would be heard throughout the land. From these times the Merchant
Fleet grew into the heart of the British Empire, bringing back all that Tea from China, the spices
from the Orient, the fruits from Morocco and the gold from everywhere. Sailing ships became
the heart of the spider web that connected Britain to its colonies and outlying Islands. Heroic
men set forth to bring back to the British people news and exotic goods that had become so much
in demand.

Last Century sailing ships became steam ships and steam ships became fuel oil burning ships.
Britain became in the middle of the last century the largest shipbuilder in the world with well
over 70% of the ships being built in places like Newcastle, on the Clyde, in London and other
famous Maritime Ports and Harbors of the UK. Britain also had the largest Maritime Fleet in the
world and dominated Trade everywhere with its powerful supply of home built ships and rufty
tufty seafarers. Yes, not long ago Britain was dependent on a massive fleet of ships importing
and exporting goods and keeping the Empire together. During these times families all knew what
the Merchant Navy was either through having family members at sea or through working in the
support Industries of Shipbuilding, Insurance, Imports/Exports, Dockyards, Stevedores amongst
many other occupations in the Maritime World!

Times change though! Thirty or so years ago the British Merchant Fleet size started to drop and
the shipbuilding Industry started to wither away. Countries like Japan and Korea started building
ships using cheaper labor and the cost of building a ship in the UK became prohibitive.
Shipyards closed and workers were laid off in their thousands and these workers drifted into
other occupations if they could or joined the long queues at the unemployment center. The fleet
size reduced in their hundreds as companies either moved their ships to other flags (different
countries for cheaper tax incentives) or sold off their fleets to foreign companies. The remaining
British ships and the foreign ships sold laid off seafarers by the thousands and employed in their
place cheaper crews from such places as India and China.

The British Merchant Navy dropped in size at such a rapid pace that it went from world
dominance to nothing in a matter of a couple of years. The significance of the Merchant Fleet in
the eyes of the public disappeared overnight and became an unknown quantity to the outside
world.

Today things are improving. Recent Tax incentives by the British Government have caused a
turn around and certain shipping companies have started to increase their fleet size under the
British Flag and other companies have switched their ships operate in the UK. London as the
center of Maritime Affairs managed to retain the title of Marine Capital of the World throughout
the troubled times and still to this day stands proud above all that represents the Marine Industry.

London with its hundreds of Marine Insurance Firms, Brokerage Companies, Lawyers,
Import/Export Houses and Ship Business and Consultants (amongst many other support arenas)
brings in over one billion pounds per annum to the UK economy? That is London alone and does
not include all the other companies and offices situated around the Islands. Furthermore, it also
makes no recognition for the 60,000 British seafarers that are still out there plying there trade
across the many oceans, nor for the Nautical Schools that still operate in Glasgow, Southampton
and Newcastle to name only the major ones. It also does not include those fleets that are
registered and operated out of British territories, like Gibraltar and it certainly does not take into
account those seafarers that work in the Merchant Navy but dont subscribe to a Union.

In basic terms the Merchant Navy could be described as any commercially operated waterborne
vessel. So any vessel that makes money is a part of the Merchant Fleet. This would include for
example: Research Vessels, Ferries, Fishing Boats, Oil Tankers, Passenger Ships, Chemical
Tankers, Training Vessels, Hospital Ships, Diving Support Vessels, Anchor Handlers and Tugs
to name but a few! It could though be said that the Merchant Navy is anything on the water that
is not used to fight with. Or anything on the water that does not have a gun! But there is a
crossover point and it is easier to use the Commercial explanation above and to include any
pleasure craft into the statement.

Merchant Vessels go with Imports and Exports. Trade being their primary purpose and 95% of
cargoes shipped around the world is by Merchant Vessels. Not, may I say by aircraft which is
often a preconception that those ashore seem to have. Cargo planes carry either very small items,
or very expensive items that are needed in a hurry. A plane could not carry Oil around the world
and it certainly could not carry toxic and dangerous Chemicals. Fruit is carried in ships as are
vegetables and grain to name but a few! Ships carry cargo; planes carry valuable items and cost
too much for general items to become viable economically. If oranges where brought in by plane
they would cost well over five pounds each at a minimum, I leave that subject to rest in peace!

At home in the UK have a look around your house and think about where the items you see come
from! That television in the corner, does it have Sony written on it? The Persian Carpet that
decorates your sitting room I am sure was not made in the UK. The childrens toys with made in
Taiwan, certainly do not come from a UK factory and the tea you are drinking most likely comes
from India! What about the Japanese car in the garage and the rice in the bucket in the kitchen?
If you were then to go a bit further and look at the wood supporting your roof you may find that
it was shipped in from Finland. The gas that heats your water is shipped in from North Sea Oil
Wells or from Africa and the fancy gravel that adorns your path came from Spain or France. And
by no means, were any of these goods or items shipped in to Britain by an airplane! Ships
brought all of these goods to your supermarket shelves, for you to enjoy in your home!

As seafarers are not fighting (which seems a common misconception) and we dont play cards all
day let us clearly state that the average seafarer suffers from overwork and stress. Stress built up
over the time he spends on the ship due to the high volume of work and the responsibility that is
placed on his shoulders. I will leave it at that. It would take a whole volume to describe the jobs
and routines that seafarers in their respective ranks are responsible for and I suggest that you read
alternative literature (if you can find any) or join up! Seafarers in short have too much to do at
sea and suffer as a result of it!

The Merchant Navy today is improving in stature and in size in the UK. Slowly and with time it
may grow once again to be a recognizable force and understood and respected by the general
population. Long gone have the times when a Captain was a respected figure in the community
but maybe he will one day be able to lift his head high a not hide under the lie of being a
travelling salesman. One day Marine Engineers will be come respected as extremely qualified
experts and not classified on the same level as a car mechanic straight out of school. Maybe one
day everybody will realize that being at sea does not mean a wife in every port and that often
nowadays seafarers no longer manage to leave the ship in their time onboard. Maybe one day
seafarers will be able to go ashore and tell people what they do without having a blank response
or a daft reply like oh, erm you fish?, or thats good, you do a good job protecting out shores.

The reason for setting up a web site for the written word of the sea may now be a bit more
logical to the landlubber. There is in fact a whole world out there that remains unknown to all.
An extremely diverse and interesting world filled with cultural shock and intrigue and through
the web site it is hoped that all readers will gain massive insight and knowledge into this world.
The Merchant Navy and those that sail on the ship deserve far more recognition and respect than
they get to date. So maybe through this web site all will change and soon Officers and Crews of
the many Vessels that ply their trades will be able to lift their heads high and shout we are in the
Merchant Navy. And all those that hear will understand and respect those persons that are part of
what was once the greatest Industry that Britain can lay claim to.

This article was posted on January 08, 2004

								
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