When the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed from Rosyth this summer, thousands of people were drawn to the water’s edge to marvel at this great British engineering accomplishment; many more watched on television and online as she arrived in Portsmouth to take her place, alongside HMS Victory, as the newest icon in our nation’s continuing maritime story.
The Queen Elizabeth class carriers represent a triumph of strategic ambition. This project was first conceived twenty years ago, and it has survived five general elections, three defence reviews and a global economic crash. Yet it endured and, in doing so, breathed new life into six shipyards and secured thousands of jobs and apprenticeships throughout the supply chain.
Now Britain’s maritime interests – civil and military – have a precious opportunity to maintain the momentum. Far beyond Rosyth, a quiet maritime industrial renaissance is under way. It includes ship repair, offshore infrastructure and the development of advanced systems, but is perhaps best exemplified by the construction of RSS Sir David Attenborough on the Mersey. The recently published National Shipbuilding Strategy seeks to build on this foundation with a blueprint for a more competitive sector that can serve the Royal Navy’s long-term needs and support UK exports.
The greatest maritime opportunity of all comes from the relentless growth of global maritime trade. As we welcomed HMS Queen Elizabeth to Portsmouth, so the world’s largest container ship arrived in Felixstowe; one of a hundred such ‘megaships’ to visit UK ports this year. With Lloyd’s predicting that seaborne trade is set to double between now and 2030, there is a fantastic economic opportunity for this maritime trading nation of ours.
Central to all our ambitions is the ability to meet the national demand for skills. The Royal Navy is proud to sponsor a growing number of university technical colleges. The latest, in Portsmouth, opened earlier this year, but we are also reaching beyond the dockyard towns to the likes of Aston, Peterborough and Reading, because our naval future is indivisible from the UK’s wider manufacturing and technological strength.
So, as we gather for this year’s Maritime Media Awards, there is much to celebrate. I would like to thank our journalists, authors, artists and digital experts for dedicating their creative and persuasive talents to the maritime cause. We are first and foremost an island nation, with a glorious naval history and an unrivalled seafaring tradition, but the future promises to be every bit as exciting. With the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth we proved to the world that the United Kingdom still has what it takes to be a great maritime nation – and a new era of opportunity has begun.
Admiral Sir Philip Jones KCB ADC
First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff