SEA BREEZES NOVEMBER 2010 • VOL 84 • NO. 779
As I write this “Message From The Bridge” I am only a few days away from embarking on a cruise around the eastern Mediterranean on Cunard’s magnificent Queen Victoria. Strangely enough for someone whose career in shipping began over 50 years ago, this will be my first ever cruise holiday.
In doing this I am joining the ever-growing numbers of British people who choose to holiday in this way – around 1.5 million last year and a number, given the choice of ships and itineraries, which is set to keep growing (see Williams Gibbons' Cruise News in this issue).
The revival of the cruise sector is one of the most fascinating success stories within the shipping industry. While world travel in the first half of the 20th century was dominated by the famous liners which crossed the Atlantic and by the many famous shipping companies whose liners enabled emigration to the ‘new world’ countries such as Australia and New Zealand, the second half of the century promised nothing but decline as a result of the advent of air travel. Cunard’s £29 million investment in the building of the Queen Elizabeth 2 in the late 1960s – a vessel only recently retired – was seen as a gamble. Built at the famous John Brown shipyard on the Clyde, on the same spot as other famous Cunarders such as the Lusitania and Aquitania had been constructed, many predicted that she would be the last great liner to be built in the UK – this on the basis that this form of travel would become obsolete.
Far from becoming obsolete, the popularity of cruise ships has burgeoned, particularly in the last couple of decades with newbuild vessels bigger and more spectacular than ever before. Air travel seen as the new and aspirational way of travel in the 1950s and 1960s has lost its golden image and indeed is now often seen by cruise passengers as a necessary evil in getting to a foreign port of departure or returning home at the end of a cruise trip. Huge numbers of Brits now enjoy cruising abroad and numerous local communities across the UK benefit from incoming cruise trade.
Unfortunately, one part of the prediction around the QE2 did come true. It does remain the last great liner built in the UK. Until the late 1960s, Britain’s shipyards still had the capability and relevant skills to build big and sophisticated merchant vessels. Of our shipyards that do remain and they are now few, most are reduced to handling general repair work and a few specialise in naval contracts. Shipyards in the Far East now occupy a dominant position in world shipbuilding with significant activity still in other parts of Europe. The opportunities in ship orders presented by the revival of the cruise sector have passed Britain by; indeed the future of British shipbuilding seems even more precarious as the new aircraft carrier project and the Trident replacement programme are shrouded in doubt as a result of the Government’s spending constraints. How sad it would be to see yet another nail hammered into the coffin of what was once a great shipbuilding industry
Captain Hamish A C Ross (Editor)