Regarding ‘Message from the Bridge’ in the March 2014 issue, ‘The point of no return’ probably reflects the sentiments of the majority of Sea Breezes readers since about the 1960s as expressed in many an article.
The most disturbing aspect is that few people beyond our fraternity seem to even care, in spite of the fact that our market led lifestyle, with its affordable array of goods and services, depends almost entirely upon the efficient operation of imports, most of which arrive by sea. Unfortunately, few people ever witness how or where this takes place. Fewer vessels are engaged in the operation and tend to use port facilities tucked away out of sight, unlike the 1960/70s for example. Liverpool has moved down river, London out of London to ‘London Gateway’ if one can find it, and the banks of the River Tyne look increasingly like a theme park.
Even Felixstowe’s massive port operations are largely hidden from view when in the town itself. The Clyde and most other ports follow a similar trend. Following on from this, it is no coincidence that the preservation of our maritime heritage tends to be an uphill struggle, compared with Scandinavia for example, where one is more aware of the dependence upon the sea. The nerve of the eye is much greater than that of the ear, as any good marketing person will tell you, and what people don’t see they often don’t know about in the first place, let alone care. This very much contrasts with another established British industry which was criminally run down in the 1960/70s, and that is our railways.
Today, not only is money being poured in to many new schemes to increase capacity in response to growing demand, but preservation is big too, involving thousands of people. Since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, over 80 private preserved railways have been opened by volunteer labour and money. Old locomotives and rolling stock are refurbished and often rebuilt. Starting about now is the construction of a brand new main line steam locomotive at Doncaster, taking at least 4 years to complete and costing £millions - all donated by individuals from all age groups. Special exhibitions at York National Railway Museum often see queues at the door to get in. Located next to the East Coast Main Line, today’s operations can be observed from a viewing platform and compared to those of yesterday inside. The maritime and railway industries have always complemented one another and have many parallels in respect of public interest, involvement and preservation. However, in recent decades and in spite of privatisation, railways in the UK are once again high profile, government assisted but more importantly, visible. This contrasts with our maritime activities which are increasingly becoming hidden from public view, mainly due to streamlined operations in the name of efficiency.
To a chunk of the population, including politicians, the well worn phrase “out of sight, out of mind” would be applicable, or possibly, “what the eye doesn’t see....etc”. But it’s not all bad news. Whilst freight tends to be tucked away, cruising has now become a very big earner. It is on the increase, especially for vessels starting, finishing and visiting UK ports. New and enlarged facilities are being built in many locations to accommodate this expanding market, and this could be an opportunity to raise the profile of shipping in general. This is good news, especially when so many other industries are struggling. Let’s watch this space for the future and capitalise where we can. We could once again become a nation of people who go down to the sea in ships, some even flying the Red Ensign with a bit of luck.
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