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Need to tackle 'sea blindness' raised in Parliamentary debate

17 September 2021

Members of Parliament from across the political divide paid tribute to the vital role of seafarers and raised the need to tackle 'sea blindness' in a House of Commons debate.

'Sea blindness' describes a lack of awareness among the public, media and decision makers of our dependence on the maritime sector. This impacts the sector's ability to attract investment and makes it more difficult to recruit the next generation of UK seafarers.

The general debate on the maritime industry was held on 16 September to coincide with London International Shipping Week, with MPs raising a plethora of important issues including minimum wage enforcement, skills, coastal communities and maritime decarbonisation.

The debate was held in Westminster Hall, which regularly hosts general debates on key topics and was secured with the support of sixteen cross-party MPs following lobbying by Nautilus International and Maritime UK.

Introducing the debate, Labour MP Kevan Jones sought to banish the notion that maritime was a 'smokestack industry,' instead arguing that it was critically important for the future of the country. He referenced the fact that the industry is responsible for 95% of imports and exports and supports more than a million jobs.

Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael made the case that debates on maritime in Parliament were far too rare and stressed the importance of tackling sea blindness, an issue which he said was raised with him in a Nautilus briefing. He argued that this was 'one of the biggest difficulties that the maritime industry has in getting the political attention that it needs'.

In a wide-ranging speech, the Orkney and Shetland MP also raised the impact of the pandemic on seafarers, including the crew change crisis and highlighted Nautilus research, which found that up to 11,000 maritime professionals were left without financial support afforded to other workers.

Conservative MP Jackie Doyle-Price, who chairs the All-Party Group for Maritime and Ports also paid tribute to the crucial role that seafarers played throughout the pandemic: 'We've been through a horrendous couple of years during the pandemic, but the supermarket shelves stayed stocked, because the maritime industry kept working.'

Responding to the debate, Labour's Shadow Maritime Minister Mike Kane MP also referenced the work of Nautilus in highlighting issues including sea blindness and the crew change crisis. He concluded by stressing that the UK maritime sector has a bright future ahead, provided that it receives the backing necessary from government.

Concluding the debate, Maritime Minister Robert Courts MP joked about being unsure of his future amidst a government reshuffle. His speech summarised what had been an important and well-informed debate. He alluded to the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review and the prospect of additional spending for the sector, before moving onto the crucial issue of skills.

'We need to ensure that we have the skills we need, not just to recover from covid, but to look to the future,' he said. Time will tell whether that is a signal that the government will announce an increase in funding in the near future.