Finding a cure for sea blindness

A survey in June 2011 discovered alarming ignorance of our island nation’s dependence on the sea

The importance of Britain’s fishing fleet

Nick Harvey, Communications and Campaigns Manager, Seafarers UK, describes initiatives to raise public awareness

Photo: Seafarers Awareness Week

For over 90 years Seafarers UK (King George’s Fund for Sailors) has been supporting seafarers in need from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Merchant Navy and fishing fleets. Raising awareness of the welfare needs of seafarers and their families is an important part of our remit as a unique ‘umbrella’ charity that gives annual grants totalling £2.5 million to more than 70 frontline charities.

The aim of our Seafarers Awareness Week in June 2011 was to stimulate interest in the sea and the essential work done by seafarers, and to explain the dependence of this island nation on its mariners and maritime skills. Our nationwide survey revealed that general maritime knowledge amongst the public at large is severely lacking, and ‘sea blindness’ is a huge problem. Even folk in the UK’s major ports appear to have largely lost any sense of connection with the sea. We found, for example, that 25% of children aged 7–14 thought ‘Pirate of the Caribbean’ Captain Jack Sparrow was Britain’s most famous seaman. Adults fared little better; an alarming 20% thought Calais was a port in the UK .

Driving home the message

Ninety-five per cent of UK imports come by sea, so it is thanks to seafarers that we have food on our tables, fuel in our power stations, heating boilers and cars, and most of the consumer goods that we take for granted. That is only half the story, for ships also carry 75% of UK exports. The consequent dependence of our island nation on merchant ships, protected by our Royal Navy, was the message Seafarers UK wanted to drive home to the public during Seafarers Awareness Week.

Embracing the ever-growing popularity of social media, Seafarers UK created a new Facebook page, ‘tweeted’ on Twitter and refreshed its YouTube channel content. The charity also commissioned a promotional video entitled The Vanished, which portrayed a world in which every ship, and its crew, suddenly vanished in a cataclysmic flash, and food and fuel soon began to run out. It was intended to shock viewers into understanding the UK’s dependence on ships and seafarers, and what would happen if they disappeared. The video can be seen at

A high-profile launch

The video was launched on 1 June at the London Royal Naval Reserve base HMS President. Commodore Tim Hennessey, Naval Regional Commander for Eastern England, welcomed media guests, who enjoyed a short sail on the River Thames in HMS Puncher, a P2000 class ship crewed by students in the University of London Royal Naval Unit under the command of Lieutenant Lee Vessey. A highlight of the trip was seeing the arrival of Amity II, the fishing boat in the popular TV series Trawlermen, captained by Jimmy Buchan, who was visiting London to launch his new book and promote the Scottish langoustine.

Another ship made the 450-mile journey to London from Peterhead, the UK’s busiest fishing port. Lunar Bow, an impressive 69-metre long pelagic trawler, berthed for six days alongside HMS Belfast, where skipper Alex Buchan welcomed media guests, supermarket fish buyers and local schoolchildren. Dr Eilidh Whiteford, MP for Banff and Buchan, hosted a reception in the Palace of Westminster at which Captain Dan Conley from the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen spoke about the importance of the UK fishing fleet.

Collaboration and concentration At the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire a moving service was held to dedicate the anchor from RFA Sir Percivale in the centre of the ‘Merchant Navy Convoy’, where every tree represents a ship lost in the Battle of the Atlantic. On the same day a plaque was unveiled there by the Right Honourable Lord West of Spithead GCB DSC PC, dedicated to sea cadets whose lives were lost in the service of their country. Those events were coordinated by the Merchant Navy Welfare Board and the Marine Society and Sea Cadets. By encouraging these and other beneficiary charities to get involved in Seafarers Awareness Week, Seafarers UK demonstrated that, through collaboration and concentration of effort, the nautical welfare sector can more easily raise public awareness of seafarers and their unique needs.

A concerted campaign

To gain the financial support it needs, Seafarers UK must ensure that people understand seafarers’ trials and tribulations – and this first means understanding our dependence on the Merchant Navy, the Royal Navy and our fishing fleets.

Seafarers Awareness Week successfully brought this message to the fore. On Monday 6 June Seafarers UK’s Director General Barry Bryant and Director of Grants Dennis Treleaven were interviewed by 18 local radio stations, plus BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio Wales. Add an interview syndicated by Sky News Radio, and the charity’s key campaigning messages reached an estimated 156 radio stations across the UK with an audience reach of nearly 32 million. A 24-minute WebTV show went out that afternoon on The Independent newspaper website and other media websites, with a combined audience of 19 million. The webcast can be viewed at

The media campaign was completed with a news release sent out via the Press Association and also sent to all national dailies, 300 regional dailies and 100 popular magazines. Coverage was also generated in targeted specialist publications, including Navy News, Lloyd’s List, IHS Fairplay, Nautilus Telegraph and Fishing News. Those waves of positive publicity were followed by the International Day of the Seafarer on 25 June, designated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency based in London. The IMO used social media to encourage people around the world to say ‘thank you’ to seafarers; their Facebook page at was ‘liked’ by thousands of visitors, including many working and retired seafarers.

Plans for 2012

Seafarers Awareness Week will continue to inform the public about the UK’s vital maritime interests, and so encourage a generous response to support those seafarers most in need. Seafarers UK is already planning next year’s Awareness Week, from 25 June to 1 July, embracing both the International Day of the Seafarer 2012 and Armed Forces Day.

To get involved please follow developments at, email or phone Seafarers UK HQ on 020 7932 0000.