do we still depend on the sea?

A Maersk container ship entering Southampton

A Maersk container ship entering Southampton

One of the biggest myths about portsmouth is that its all about the Royal Navy. Southampton is where all of the commercial trade goes, surely? But where did all the materials to build and maintain the warships come from? All of the food to feed the people of Portsmouth? The coal? The fish to go to market? And how did tea and spices come from the far east? wine from the medditeranean?

Very few people know that in actual fact Portsmouth had a substantial seaborne commercial trade going right back to the middle ages. And as an island nation, Britain has always depended on the sea as its lifeline to the outside world, and for its very existence. Look at the dire situation we found ourselves in WW2 when the German U-boats threatened to cut off our trade routes across the Atlantic. It is this need to protect our seas and our trade that led to the growth and eventual dominance of the Royal Navy.

But now that we live in a different world, with air travel, and after the demise of the British Empire, do we still depend on the sea? Of course!

Take a look at this website here. The AIS system uses satellite technology to plot where ships are on the oceans. And with the addition of useful information such as a ships name, its size, its cargo, and its destination, You can have a very accurate picture of what is going on on our seas.

And it is a very busy picture. Besides the Royal Navy warships entering and leaving Portsmouth, there are also the support vessels of the Royal Fleet Auxilliary. Add to that the Isle of Wight Ferries, the cross-channel ferries to France and Spain, and the cargo ships to France and the Channel Islands, and Portsmouth is a very busy port. Further afield, you have scores of huge container ships docking at Southampton, ocean liners, and many oil tankers docking at Fawley to ofload at the oil refinery.

Further afield there are other areas. Look at how busy the Dover straits are with shipping. Felixstowe is crammed with container ships, and the Humber Estuary with oil tankers also. All of our coast is extremely busy with all kinds of shipping. Even further afield, across the North Sea Rotterdam, Ostend and Zeebrugge are very important shipping centres too.

So imagine what would happen is part or all of this trade became impossible, if for some reason we lost control of the sea lanes around our country? The impact it might have on our security does not bear thinking about. Imagine for example if all of the oil tankers putting in at Fawley were prevented from docking – there would be power cuts in parts of the country. It would be the same too if the areas where the oil was shipped from became unstable too.

So if you think that the seas dont really matter any more, or that we dont need a Navy, or that as an Island nation we can just retreat away from the world, think about the hundreds of ships moving all around our coastline every day and every night. We would live in a very different country without them.


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Filed under Local History, maritime history, Navy

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