Maritime heritage underpins our vision for Britain’s future


Richard Clayton, the Maritime Foundation

No country in the world can offer a maritime heritage to match the United Kingdom. Few can point to such a pool of maritime talent working so hard to build an ocean-focused future.

Maritime 2020 brings together an intriguing glimpse of global maritime Britain past, present and future. It reveals a continuing respect for the work of those who have pushed the boundaries of technology since the 16th century, an admiration for the generations who led Britain’s adventures overseas, and a fascination for what’s to come.

Our dependence on the sea

The Maritime Foundation has a specific role. The organisation exists to promote awareness of the UK’s dependence on the sea. There have been moments in the past when Britain’s maritime profile has been greater in the minds of government and people. However, as the depth and breadth of the contributions to this magazine shows, this dependence is as encompassing now as it has ever been.

Our coverage of this dependence runs far and wide, from an exploration of new energy sources such as hydrogen and wind power to the opportunities presented by artificial intelligence. We look at how invisible fishing fleets are being tracked and traced, how the ocean bed is steadily being mapped, and how the Arctic’s own resources are opening up.

There is much here about the future – of the Royal Navy, of the seafarer and e-farer, of propulsion and fuels for shipping, and of a vision for maritime policy. What links each of these contributions is their focus on the human element. A global maritime Britain is a Britain with human engagement at its heart, however much technology evolves.

The overarching theme of this publication is innovation. Although it is often thought that innovation is a child of the new millennium, the concept of new thinking has always been a part of global maritime Britain. If we understand the context from which innovation emerged, we are much better informed about why new thinking was necessary, and what tools were available at the time to build on what had gone before.

Challenges for the maritime sector

CMB’s Hydrocat, one of a growing fleet of hydrogen-driven vessels. The propulsion system was developed by the company’s British-based technology division CMB Revolve Technologies – CMB.TECH. Photo: CMB.TECH

That’s just as apposite today. The global maritime sector faces a number of challenges that must be tackled head-on. At a time of climate crisis, the UK is a proud partner in projects involving stakeholders around the world, as this magazine reveals. This work embraces fish of all shapes and sizes and ships of all roles and responsibilities. We look at how Britain’s ports are preparing to accommodate the prospects of trade after the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and we assess the new thinking shaping the future of one of Britain’s great maritime cities.

The future for global maritime Britain is positive because of this combination of a spirit of innovation and an attitude of vision grounded on a heritage that gets stronger the more it is understood. Our cover illustrates this well. The Hydroville is the first certified passenger shuttle that uses hydrogen to power a diesel engine. Hydrogen releases no CO2, particulate matter or sulphur oxides when burned.

Although owned by the Belgian family-owned shipping company CMB, the engine technology comes from British R&D by Revolve Technologies Ltd. Wind turbines in the background underline the UK’s commitment to clean energy – British waters host some of the world’s largest offshore wind farms.

Agility, inquisitiveness, willingness

New thinking, new technology and new challenges call for new skills. This magazine presents many opportunities for the next generation looking to contribute their talents across the maritime sector. And Britain’s heritage teaches us that to be a world leader in any discipline involves being agile, inquisitive and willing to accept challenges in a positive spirit. Whether in ocean research, artificial intelligence, defence and security, or virtual reality education and training, Britain continues to exhibit a fascination for the ocean, an urge to explore it and, increasingly, a desire to protect it.

Look out for the Maritime Foundation’s 25th annual Maritime Media Awards, which form an integral part of our work. We celebrate the very best of maritime journalism (the Desmond Wettern Award), film and documentary (the Gosling Award), literature (the Mountbatten Award) and digital media (the Babcock International First Sea Lord’s Award).

Sadly, Covid-19 has prevented us from holding our Awards dinner this year, so we have had to be innovative. This new thinking has brought a virtual string to the Maritime Foundation’s bow: it’s a challenge we have had to meet head-on. The experience has shown the importance of safely celebrating global maritime Britain even in a global pandemic.

Nevertheless, the contributions that follow emphasise just how valuable our maritime heritage has been in times of crisis past – and will continue to be throughout this current crisis. In spite of Covid-19 – perhaps even because of it – global maritime Britain remains a vital pillar of the country’s economy. There is much to be excited about the future of this sector, and no better time to bring new thinking and skills to the table.