This event is widely considered to be a highlight of the maritime calendar and I am delighted to be here for the first time.
I am proud of what this government has achieved for the maritime sector.
Admiral Nelson – one of my long-time heroes – spoke of his “greatest happiness” being to serve his king and country.
I know that feeling all too well.
I feel honoured to be Minister for Shipping and Ports.
I am also very proud that this government has achieved so much for the maritime sector during this parliament.
But I know we couldn’t have achieved half as much without the chamber’s support.
And because the maritime industry is a collaborative industry, I want to spend time celebrating some of our joint achievements over the last 5 years.
It is right that we promote the contribution the maritime sector makes to the UK.
Our shipping, ports and maritime business services are the foundation of our nation’s wealth.
Although I have lived most of my adult life in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, I was born just a stone’s throw from the historic dockyard in Woolwich.
My maternal grandfather was a lighterman on the Thames, and I spent my early life closely connected to Britain’s vast maritime heritage.
As I looked out across the murky river from the Woolwich Ferry, I often saw London’s bustling docks and remember watching the myriad of ships coming in and departing laden with British goods bound for all the corners of the globe.
Anyone observing this couldn’t fail to appreciate just how important maritime trade has always been to the health of Britain’s economy.
This remains just as true today, and for the future, as it was in the past.
For there to be goods on the shelves of our shops, the raw materials delivered to our factories, and for our world beating firms to export, we depend on the quality of our docks, our shipping and the talents of the seafarers who support them.
If we want Britain to prosper, British shipping needs to continue to thrive, and that’s why the maritime sector is a fundamental part of the government’s long-term plan to build a stronger, more competitive economy.
That’s the message I bring to my colleagues in government and parliament.
And it’s a message we must make to the nation.
So I am going to talk about how – together – we have developed maritime skills and training.
Cut red tape.
Fought for greater safety at sea.
And how we are working to create the conditions in which the UK’s maritime sector can lead the world.
But I know that challenges remain, notably on regulation and costs, so I also want to say something about the future.
Let me first turn to skills and training.
It is the British maritime workforce that distinguishes our maritime industry above all others.
It’s a workforce that leads the world in skill, dedication and professionalism.
We all want to see more people embarking on seafaring careers or working in our sector.
And I am pleased to report the latest figures show there is an increase in the total number of UK seafarers.
Equipping the workforce of the 21st century requires the government and the industry to continue to work together.
A great example of co-operation between the government and the industry are the joint Strategic Partnership Plans for Shipping and Ports.
Now a third plan – on Maritime Business Services – will be published shortly.
Continuing on the theme of partnership, London International Shipping Week will return in September.
Preparations are well-advanced for this year’s event and have the full backing of government.
I know that the ambition and scope for this event have grown significantly and I hope that all of you will attend.
Of course, it’s right that the government supports maritime careers more directly, too.
So in 2013 we increased the Support for Maritime Training (SMarT) funding for UK officers and ratings by 25%.
In November 2014, I promoted skills and training at the Inaugural Maritime Skills Week, and launched the joint government and Maritime UK publication, Open for Maritime Skills which showcases the UK’s excellent maritime training institutions and programmes.
The breadth of career opportunities in the maritime sector. And promotes the UK as a place to do business with our skilled workforce.
But there is more to be done, particularly around ratings training.
So I’m pleased with the progress made by the maritime trailblazer group on maritime apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships are very important to me.
As a minister in the business department, I took forward to this government’s apprenticeship programme.
This government has now funded well over 2 million apprenticeships during this parliament.
I’m delighted that at long last we are making strides on effective and attractive apprenticeship schemes for seafarers.
Complementing the maritime sector in other areas such as ports, already do to offer apprentice opportunities to young people.
And in response to the joint proposal from the chamber, the RMT and Nautilus, I am delighted that from October we will pilot an extension to the tonnage tax scheme, which will now allow the option of training three able seafarer ratings each year in place of one officer cadet
I want to see opportunities for young people at every level of the industry and I hope that industry supports this, too.
The UK’s shipping industry must be able to compete of a global level playing field.
That means fair competition, throwing overboard any unnecessary red tape, including any bilge than emanates from Brussels.
Over the last 5 years, we have significantly reduced the regulatory burden on the shipping industry.
We’ve simplified regulations, in ship safety, and seafarer health and safety.
Where we’ve needed to, we’ve faced down the EU.
And we’ve turned the tide on the EU’s Port Services Regulation.
The new sulphur limits have been contentious - and it’s right that the chamber has been active in support of its members.
For our part, we have worked with the industry to explain to the commission the problems that the new regulations could cause, and to develop practical and proportionate enforcement mechanisms.
We have also joined the Secretary-General of the IMO in working to achieve a timely start to the IMO’s review of the availability of 0.5% sulphur fuel.
This is an important precondition of the introduction of a new global sulphur limit in 2020.
And I assure you: we continue to support the industry in your transition to the new sulphur regime.
Back in 2011, the chamber championed longer-term, strategic changes to the way the UK implements international regulations.
New powers expected to come into force shortly will provide us with a modern, responsive legislative regime we need.
The bottom line is this: it will reduce barriers to international trade.
Where we’ve been able, we’ve cut costs, too.
I am aware that we need a stable and effective tonnage tax regime.
Last October, I agreed with my Irish counterpart, that aids to navigation around the Republic of Ireland will be funded by income raised in Ireland from this April.
I am also delighted to announce today another one penny cut in Light Dues from 1st April 2015. This will save the industry 2 million pounds a year.
On top of last year’s penny cut and the freeze in Light Dues before then, we have reduced Light Dues by 19% in real terms since 2010.
I recognise more can be done to further stimulate growth and simplify the regulatory regime, and I will continue to work on your behalf to do just that.
We all know that the sea can never be made totally safe.
If ever any evidence were needed of that, it was the tragic loss of the Cemfjord, and the beaching of the Hoegh Osaka.
In these cases and in many others over the last 5 years, the government and the maritime industry have worked together to protect seafarers from dangers, and to act in unison and with purpose when things do go wrong, as demonstrated by the response to the Hoegh Osaka.
The Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention brought together everyone necessary to manage the incident.
I pay tribute to the work to all those involved who ensured the ship was returned safely to port with no pollution and no additional disruption to trade.
The ever-present danger of the seas is why we invested £1.6 billion in the search and rescue helicopter service, a vital service that works in very difficult conditions to bring help to 6,000 people a year.
And when the coastguard transformation programme is finished in December, capability will improve still further.
But what does the future hold for the maritime industry as a whole?
There is increasing competition to our place as a maritime centre.
But we know that world trade is expected to double over the next 20 years or so.
So there are great opportunities and great challenges.
In November I launched the Maritime Growth Study.
The study will help the British Maritime Industry continue to compete in a global market.
It asks: what are the future growth opportunities we should be focusing on?
How can we best work together to seize those opportunities?
What action can be taken by both government and industry?
We are already starting to hear a consistent message.
The maritime industry needs continued investment in people and training.
You want better coordinated promotion of your services, and more of it.
And above all, you want regulatory stability.
But we want to hear from everyone in the maritime industry.
So if you have not yet responded, I urge you to come forward with your thoughts, your evidence and your ideas.
British mercantile trade is flourishing. UK owned fleets are three times larger and registered fleets six times larger than in 2000.
Our island home has a great maritime pedigree but you should know that I understand that we face tough challenges in a competitive world.
Because there is no room for complacency I set up the Maritime Growth Study.
I am delighted that the consultative group that will provide invaluable guidance and insight during the study will be led by Michael Parker, the former President of the Chamber.
A glorious future for the maritime industry is the vision we all share.
A future that may be different in appearance to the maritime nation we were in Nelson’s day, but has equal heart and equal drive to be the best in the world.
So I will leave you with that vision of a thriving UK maritime sector – a sector at the heart of our economy.
That is where we all want to be.
And together, we can get there.
So, join me in a toast to ‘UK seafarers and UK shipping.’