Perseverance and perspective in an age of global uncertainty

Introduction to Maritime 2023

Richard Clayton, the Maritime Foundation

This issue of our Maritime magazine can be summed up as a study in perseverance and perspective, with a very large personality.

In an age that celebrates moments of fame that last 15 minutes at best, perseverance is, sadly, a quality that no longer cuts it. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is defined as ‘continued effort to do or achieve something, even when this is difficult or takes a long time’. I encourage you to read this collection of expert contributions, to discover that perseverance has been the quality behind many decades of maritime triumphs against the odds.

Among many examples, the early years of submarine cables were frustrating, with cutting-edge communications technology failing alarmingly quickly. It was the spirit of perseverance that triumphed, through the creation of a worldwide web of subsea cables. Today, almost 160 years after the first message was sent under the Atlantic Ocean, about 97 per cent of the world’s communications are still transported under the seas, albeit by fibre-optic cables.

In the 1890s, Sir Charles Parsons believed that turbine technology could drive a vessel faster than had ever been achieved. Many years of hard work led to an innovation that stunned the Royal Navy.

I’m glad to say that perseverance continues to run through the British maritime sector, in the face of what appear to be insurmountable challenges: the climate crisis, geopolitical tension, national security issues, so-called sea blindness, and a worldwide failure to recognise the vulnerability of the ocean.

As I write, with world leaders meeting in Egypt to discuss the fuels of the future, a British firm has at last been granted funding by the government to take tidal energy to the next level. Like subsea cables and marine turbines, this project has required extraordinary perseverance against all the odds. Meanwhile, vessel operators around the country are determinedly seeking ways to go carbon-neutral and sharing the successes and barriers to success along the way.

While there are clear lines of connection between Britain’s past achievements, its present challenges and its future ambitions, several contributions emphasise that many of the old ways are no longer sustainable. UK seas are facing multiple threats, and so are the species that call these seas home. The past century has seen an incredible loss of precious coastal habitat, and a decimation of fish populations through overfishing and unsustainable fishing, and increasing acidification through warming waters.

In order, however, to meet the needs of the future – whether in marine technology, environmental stewardship of the ocean or national security in a changing world – Britain needs more than perseverance. There must be a national policy of re-engagement with maritime at all levels. Industry leaders now recognise that the best way to attract the brightest talent and retain expertise in a highly competitive economy is to focus on how maritime can make a positive difference.


Training the future Merchant Navy. Photo: Warsash Maritime School, Solent University

The second quality identified in this issue of Maritime, therefore, is perspective. Understanding the nature of the challenges ahead is the first step to resolving them. Britain has taken the lead in mapping the world’s oceans, about 80 per cent of which are unobserved and unexplored. The huge amounts of data being gathered by national and international agencies will support safety of navigation, sustainable development, security and defence, scientific research, and environmental protection.

Gaining perspective is a team sport in which Britain excels – and, when it comes to naval threat actors, especially Russia and China, it is critical. Unprecedented investment in new ships and the latest capabilities, not just in maritime but also in cyber and space, will enable the Royal Navy to stay ahead of threats in an increasingly turbulent world. The way Britain thinks about its maritime forces is changing and must continue to change.

Perspective is just as critical for the recruitment of the next generation of talent for the merchant navy. In spite of dozens of initiatives over the past 30 or 40 years, of which Maritime 2050 is just the latest, the young men and women of Britain remain uncertain about the opportunities of a career at sea. There is an urgent need for retraining and reskilling the contemporary seafaring workforce, to become the best advocates for the industry.

Government has a vital role to play in the development of maritime, a role that has increased then diminished as competing calls on funding have taken attention away. One man who recognised the importance of perseverance and perspective in keeping government aligned with maritime was Anthony Harvey, the driving force behind the Maritime Foundation for more than 30 years.

Anthony passed away in October. Such was his commitment to Britain’s maritime heritage and future potential that he led the Maritime Foundation team until the end. No one has given as much to this industry over so many years as Anthony, through his constant focus on encouraging good practice to become best practice, his infectious good humour, and his incredible list of influential maritime contacts across the industry.

Anthony Harvey was the huge personality that embraced all elements of Britain’s maritime legacy. He will be greatly missed by friends, family and colleagues, and perhaps there is no more fitting tribute to him than this magazine, which brings together so much maritime knowledge. He would be the first to call on perseverance in an age of adversity, and on perspective in an age of uncertainty.

Times are changing and the needs of the past will not be the needs of the future. No doubt Maritime magazine will evolve, but it will do so in line with Anthony’s guiding principles.