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Looking out to sea

Opportunities for women, climate change, the repercussions of leaving the EU and many more maritime issues need serious media attention

This year we focus on opportunities for women in marine-related occupations, from leisure sailing to the Royal Navy, from the merchant service to oceanographic research. Recent successes in Rio demonstrate that in international sport there are no barriers to participation. In the Royal Navy some 30% of all ships’ crews are now female, with new provision to include billets on submarines. In the world merchant fleet the number of women remains small, at about 1%. But when it comes to research in areas such as marine biology, environmental studies and oceanography we see women increasingly playing their part.

A number of studies over the past decade have addressed the problem of training seafarers, both women and men, not only for operating ships at sea but also for applying their unique experience to pilotage, port management and professional marine services. Seatime service for master mariners averages out at about twelve years, and until now there has been little support from ship owners to provide a career path into shore-based employment. To address this problem, the findings of a major collaborative study entitled Operation Ulysses were presented at Trinity House earlier this month, with far reaching proposals to enhance transferable skills as part of graduate certificate of competency programmes.

Immediately before the EU referendum the Maritime Foundation held a high-level briefing to consider some of the detailed issues facing fisheries, shipping and defence. On Britain’s fisheries there are three related issues: first, the management of migratory fish stocks; second, the right to fish in European waters and quota entitlements; and third, the more complex issue of enforcing sustainable practices throughout European waters.

It is, however, necessary to reflect on the wider picture. The lower price of oil and gas on the world market makes extraction in the North Sea less viable, and in shipping the slump in world trade coupled with a massive oversupply of new builds is having a disastrous impact on the viability of the container and bulk trades.

Increasingly, too, there is a sense of growing tension over maritime security, particularly in the Far East, and a realisation that the protection of ocean resources now requires more effective enforcement capability.

Climate change is a global issue. The Paris Agreement, which comes into force on 4 November 2016, has brought a shared resolve to restrict the volume of CO2 emissions so that global temperatures do not rise more than 2°C above those of pre-industrial times. Shipping is required to reduce emissions by at least 30%. However, with 95% of world trade carried by ship, account needs to be taken of the overall logistics of alternatives, which would add considerably to emissions on a carrying-capacity basis.

These global and interrelated maritime issues were hardly mentioned during the EU referendum campaign, and it is only through media exposure that public awareness can be promoted. This places a serious responsibility on media personnel to look beyond internal affairs – and that is why the Maritime Foundation presents the Maritime Media Awards, to give recognition to those journalists, writers, programme makers and social media users who step outside the theatre of domestic politics and expose the facts about the UK’s dependence on the sea for its economic prosperity and security.