The changing face of shipping

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling sets out the future for the UK’s shipping industries.

The Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP


It’s great to join you for the culminating event of London International Shipping Week 2017.

And what a week.

Since 8am on Monday (11 September 2017), when we opened London Stock Exchange with a ceremony in honour of shipping week, we’ve between us held over 160 events, involving hundreds of the world’s leading maritime organisations, and catering to 15,000 people from over 50 countries.

So much activity that I doubt there are 2 people here who’ve had identical weeks.

My highlights included the roundtable discussion at 10 Downing Street, at which my ministerial colleagues and I met the leaders of many of the world’s biggest maritime companies.

And there was a welcome reception at Lancaster House, with a fine performance by the Royal Marines Band.

These were some of the set-piece occasions.

But they were not necessarily the most important occasions.

Because at London International Shipping Week, often more significant are the interactions that take place alongside the big events.

The conversations at the fringes.

The chance run-ins with people working in different parts of the maritime sector, perhaps in different parts of the world, that could lead to future business partnerships.

The ideas sparked by hearing a new perspective on an old challenge.

The investment secured when two organisations see an opportunity that they can reach together.

No doubt conversations like this have taken place at tables in this room tonight.

Or, alternatively, perhaps you’ve just been having a jolly good time.

Because that’s allowed too.

Transport is changing

Now, this summer I celebrated my first anniversary in the job as Secretary of State for Transport.

It’s a job I always wanted to do – much to the surprise of some of my colleagues.

Because what they say about transport is that you can’t please everyone.

People are either unhappy because you’re building new transport infrastructure near them, and it’s harming their neighbourhood, or they’re unhappy because you’re not building new transport infrastructure near them, and it’s harming their neighbourhood.

You can’t win.

Actually, I think that view is a little pessimistic.

We’re investing a huge amount in transport in this country, and there’s a lot of agreement with what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

But the real reason I wanted this job is because of the way that transport is changing, and changing in a way that is set to change how the world works too.

So I’d like to say something about how our maritime industries are not only contributing to that change, but how they can increasingly lead that change.

Changing technology

First, there’s the promise of new technology.

If you go to Silicon Valley today, or London’s Silicon Roundabout, or Cambridge Science Park, you’ll find that everyone’s talking about transport.

There’s growing recognition that we are living at the beginning of a revolutionary era.

A time of transition as momentous as that following the invention of the steam ship or the motor car.

In which the next great step forward for the human race will be delivered by new forms of mobility.

We’re starting to see it in the drones deployed by the emergency services to help in times of crisis.

The first driverless cars in testing on our roads.

And the advances in maritime autonomy.

Thanks to the ingenuity of big companies such as Rolls Royce, and smaller ones such as ASV, on England’s south coast, we’re already seeing unmanned vessels on our waters.

And the technology offers huge promise.

Today, 90% of accidents at sea are caused by human error.

So there could be a huge safety benefit to keeping seafarers off the riskiest routes.

Those drones in our skies can also be used over our seas, inspecting ships and further improving safety.

Then there’s the efficiency boost that could make maritime even more competitive against road freight, which in turn offers big environmental benefits.

Now, there’s also understandable concern about the effect that automation could have on jobs.

These concerns should be taken seriously.

But there’s also evidence that rather than destroying jobs, automation creates wealth.

And that wealth creates opportunity, and opportunity means new jobs.

So the seafarer of today might be the unmanned vessel operator of tomorrow - supervising several ships from a control station on-shore.

He or she might help design intelligent software.

Or contribute to new naval architecture.

Of course, roles like these require different skills.

Which is one reason why it makes sense to invest in training.

Maritime cities such as Liverpool and London already offer some of the best maritime training on earth.

But I’d like to see the industry do more.

This week we have called on our maritime industries to double the number of people taken on as apprentices.

Because that’s what will set countries like Britain apart in future – the capability of our workforce.

Changing workforce

And that brings me on to my next point.

A second way this industry is set to change is in the make-up of that workforce.

The International Transport Worker’s Federation estimates that 98% of the world’s maritime workforce is male.

In the UK, too, of our 14,000 certified officers, only 3% are women.

Only 4% of our technical officers are women.

And of our engine officers, only 1% are women.

This isn’t a challenge unique to the maritime industry.

Let’s face it: I speak as the male head of an all-male team of transport ministers.

But, actually, that’s the point.

Those of us on the inside have got to be the ones who make it more welcoming for those on the outside.

I’ve said the same to the rail industry, and the freight industry.

Yes, it’s the right thing to do.

But there’s also a business case for more female expertise in the industry.

Today, we’re missing out on 50% of the talent.

Fifty percent of the new ideas.

Fifty percent of the potential progress this industry could be making.

And probably quite a lot of profit too.

So this week the government has written to the heads of our maritime business and training colleges, asking what more we can do to increase the number of women in the industry.

Changing international scene (Brexit)

But I couldn’t finish tonight without saying something about the future of the industry as Britain leaves the European Union.

Now, I argued that Britain should leave the EU.

Not because I believe a federal EU couldn’t work.

It could.

But because I believe both the EU and the UK will work better as friendly neighbours than as part of a strained union.

For instance, in less than 2 years, for the first time in more than 4 decades, the UK will begin to enjoy an independent trade policy.

That matters, because one thing that’s set this country apart in Europe is the way we’ve pursued trade with the wider world.

If you don’t believe me, listen to one of Britain’s most critical friends: Charles de Gaulle.

This week, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, our First Sea Lord, present this evening, reminded us of something that de Gaulle said when he vetoed our application to join the European Economic Community.

De Gaulle described Britain as “insular, and maritime”, and said that:

She is linked through her interactions, her markets and her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries.

She pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities.

She has, in all her doings, very marked and very original habits and traditions.

Well, we didn’t like hearing it at the time.

But with hindsight there’s more than a little truth in parts of that description.

Our departure from the EU will allow us to build those closer trading ties with countries around the world.

Of course we want trade to flourish and grow with our neighbours in the EU.

But we are also already in discussion about increasing trade with countries such as:

  • the United States
  • Australia
  • China
  • India
  • Mexico
  • South Korea
  • India
  • Brazil

And once those new deals are signed, our maritime industry will enable us to expand our trade, receiving the world’s goods, and sell our own.

That’s why this week we announced that we are to draw up a plan for Britain’s maritime industry up to 2050.

We want to shape and promote the maritime industry, and see it grow.

That’s good news for British shipping.

But it’s also good news for all the world’s trading nations.

And it’s good, in turn, for their maritime industries too.


And that is our message to the world during London International Shipping Week 2017.

You’ve been welcome in London.

Now work with us.

Join us in spreading free trade.

Help us do business with the world.

And as transport changes, the world will change with it.

So let maritime lead the way.

Thank you.

Published 15 September 2017