Paul G Wright FNI, Master Mariner and Associate Director of Plymouth University Marine Institute, reports from the third Britain and the Sea conference
The third conference in the Britain and the Sea series, held at Plymouth University in September 2014, considered three key areas of concern to our island nation: sea power in an age of uncertainty, the maritime human resource challenge, and marine environment matters.
Opening the conference, Professor Ray Playford, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Plymouth University, pointed out that it was being held during the Ocean City Festival, highlighting a core area of Plymouth University’s mission – the development of marine and maritime education. Julian Parker, Chairman of the Maritime Foundation, outlined the aims of the conference as seeking to increase maritime awareness and hence opportunities for industry across the United Kingdom.
Rear Admiral Ben Key, Flag Officer Sea Training, gave the keynote speech. He welcomed the developments taking place in the region which are encouraging naval officers to recognise the interdependency of the different marine and maritime disciplines within a world that has increasingly become ‘more connected but more contested’. Admiral Key referred to the importance and longevity of strategic decisions made today, reflecting on the military, political, technical, environmental and demographic changes which will be seen during the operational lives of the new aircraft carriers under construction. He described the need for fresh thinking about their deployment and the challenges faced in developing future officers and personnel. In this respect he welcomed the establishment of the Dartmouth Centre for Seapower and Strategy, stating that ‘an independent and inclusive centre will meet the needs for raising knowledge, awareness and understanding of issues relating to marine and maritime affairs.’
Sea power in an age of uncertainty
In the first session, Professor Graeme Herd, Head of Plymouth University’s School of Government and newly appointed Director of the Dartmouth Centre for Seapower and Strategy, introduced the vision and development opportunities which the Centre will embrace, with the aim of bringing added value to the marine and maritime sectors of the United Kingdom.
Professor Steven Haines of Greenwich University spoke to a paper entitled ‘The end of the Grotian era? Maintaining order and good governance at sea’, in which he considered that solutions to conflicts over the rights to use the seas will be resolved by an evolving body of international law. He considered that the scale of globalisation has undermined the possibility of economic warfare at sea and that in the future the world’s navies would mainly take on constabulary duties.
Professor Gwythian Prins, Emeritus Research Professor at the London School of Economics, argued that the role of a navy is to project national power, and its purpose, when confronted, is to fight to win. He was critical of the Western political class which believes that peace is the default condition of international relations, where soft power has replaced hard power and thus eliminated the need for a grand strategy. By deciding ‘not to have a strategy’ he claimed that the West has ‘decided to cede control over defence spending to its enemies’. He reiterated that the key element of naval commitment is the capability to use the sea in pursuit of national interests and deny others disruptive influence.
The third speaker of the session was Philip Grove, a lecturer at Britannia Royal Naval College. The content of his talk was pragmatic. He stated that world politics are less predictable than in the past and argued the desirability of having naval forces to provide presence and demonstrate flexible response.
In a long discussion, delegates considered the relative roles of military power as a means of defending maritime interests, and world trade as a means promoting peaceful coexistence. The session demonstrated that political solutions to world problems depend on outlook and circumstances. It recognised that the new independent and inclusive Dartmouth Centre would supplement learning from defence college lectures and business school syllabuses.
The maritime human resource challenge
The first speaker in this session was Glenys Jackson, head of the Merchant Navy Training Board, an industrial body designed to support the supply of well-trained merchant navy personnel and develop professionals to meet the wider needs of the maritime industry. Her presentation provided a detailed insight into present issues of concern, including recruitment, training, retention and future career development. David Dearsley, formerly Deputy Secretary General of the International Shipping Federation, gave an informative talk on ‘Maritime career path mapping’, including an insight regarding the needs of the seafarer and the problem of retention. He had recently undertaken a study which showed that the average seafarer spent between twelve and fifteen years at sea. The study examined how retention might be extended, and he had come to the conclusion that ‘if you want seafarers to stay, help them to leave.’ He claimed that ‘career path planning’, which recognises the limitations of seafaring as a long-term career, is an effective tool to help retain seafaring staff.
The theme of completeness was taken up by Commodore Barry Bryant of Seafarers UK. He described the role of Seafarers UK. Whilst its charitable work is well known, like Sea Vision UK it is able to help map out maritime career paths and give advice and information on career opportunities within the maritime sector.
The last three speakers of the session provided presentations on maritime skills training available in the Southwest of England.
Mary Cox, Principal of University Technical College Plymouth, established in 2013, spoke about the role of the College in addressing the serious skills shortages in the area of marine engineering and the use of composite materials. She reminded delegates that to remain competitive the UK needs to produce more than 400,000 scientists and engineers each year. Currently it provides only a quarter of that number.
A new approach to the training of hydrographic surveyors was described by Dr Richard Thain, Director of the recently established Hydrographic Academy. The use of e-learning to upskill surveyors and make best use of their time whilst at sea was explained. The Academy has been nominated for the Outstanding Employer Engagement Initiative at the 2014 Times Higher Education Awards.
Lieutenant Commander John Hunnibell of Britannia Royal Naval College described the Royal Navy’s provision of basic skills to ‘deliver courageous leaders’ for the future. He covered the practical and academic demands of programmes associated with the ‘militarisation’ and ‘marinisation’ of recruits, and the importance of mentoring during the early career.
The discussion which followed considered greater liaison between the Royal and Merchant navies, opportunities for e-learning at sea, a role for ‘active retired persons’ and the value of continuous professional development.
Marine environment matters
The first speaker of the final session, Captain David Smith of Plymouth Marine Laboratories, described the risks associated with the carriage of alien species in a ship’s ballast water.
An interesting paper presented by Richard Caslake of the Seafish Industrial Authority gave an overview of problems associated with the UK fishing industry, including the economics of fishing and the difficulty of providing profitable returns. He also covered actions being taken to reduce the amount of discards and improve the selectivity of fish types caught.
The need for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) was explained by Dr Jason Lowther of Plymouth University’s School of Law. The role of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which covers the establishment and enforcement of MPAs to redress ‘centuries of failure in marine stewardship’ was discussed.
The final paper, ‘Wind power: a British solution to an environmental challenge’, was presented by Lars Carlsson of Windship Technology. He stated that wind power has a place in the international shipping business, as confirmed by research work recently undertaken. It has been established that on the right trade routes, computer-controlled sails retrofitted to bulk carriers could reduce fuel costs by up to 30%. He suggested that the use of new technologies combined with the financial power of London could once again make the United Kingdom a major maritime nation.
Bringing the conference to a close, Julian Parker said:
‘This has been a fascinating conference because of the wide-ranging subjects presented and the realisation amongst the discerning and questioning audience that the relationship between defence, education and the environment presents new opportunities for shared cooperation.
‘Perhaps the most enduring theme to emerge from this vibrant conference has been the interdependence of all the elements in maritime activity. The global oceans are becoming more of a shared responsibility, and the security of nations depends not only upon their national protection but on secure relationships with global partners in pursuit of trade.’
The conference was organised by Paul Wright, assisted by Sally Bishop-Hawes and members of the Plymouth University Events Team, with the support of the Maritime Foundation, Seafarers UK, Plymouth University School of Government and Plymouth University Marine Institute. The Britain and the Sea 4 conference will be held in September 2015, with the theme ‘Maritime risks and security – the threats to global trade and fisheries’.