History of the UK Marine Industry


The Maritime history of the United Kingdom involves events including shipping, ports, navigation, and seamen, as well as marine sciences, exploration, trade, and maritime themes in the arts from the creation of the kingdom of Great Britain as a unified sovereign state on 1 May 1707 in accordance with the Treaty of Union, signed on 22 July 1706.

In the 18th century our main export was corn and the Lloyd’s List was established in 1734 and Lloyd’s Register in 1764-5.

In the 19th century with steamboats being a common sight on British rivers, canals and regular sailing across the Atlantic. Shipbuilders began using iron instead of wood as the ships could be made larger with more cargo space. In the 1870s new more efficient engines were introduced so that sailing ships began to be phased out.

In the 1880s steel began to replace iron for the hulls with steamships gradually replaced sailing ships for commercial shipping during the 19th century, particularly after more efficient engine designs were developed in the later part of the period.

The twentieth century saw 25% of the world’s trade was through British ports, 18% of this being to North America. Trans-oceanic travel was important at the start of the century with transatlantic liners competing for the “Blue Riband” for the fastest crossing.

During the 20th century new types of cargo ships appeared – the container ship, the oil tanker and the gas container ship.

Although very few people are aware of it, over 90% of the UK’s visible trade moves by sea. Worldwide, the shipping industry continues to expand to meet the demands of globalisation.

In the last 40 years the world’s population has doubled yet maritime trade has quadrupled. Ships carry 77% of world trade and seaborne trade is forecast to almost double over the next 15 years. With increasing world trade and growing maritime leisure interests, the range of supporting maritime activities is always growing.

UK maritime industry covers everything from shipping to sub-sea technology, ports to aquaculture, maritime legal and financial services to leisure, and from the Royal Navy to commercial fishing. The UK has a great maritime history and today boasts the largest maritime sector in Europe. With a turnover of over £56 billion – bigger than automotive and more than double the size of aerospace and agriculture combined – and directly employing approximately.

410,000 people, the sector makes a massive contribution to our economy. We are technological leaders in offshore oil and gas extraction, and strong in marine manufacturing; we are world-beaters in yacht design, building and racing; we have some of the most prestigious cruise companies in the world; and London is the world centre for maritime financial and legal services.

The marine industries and maritime services sector could see their value to the UK economy rise from the current £17 billion a year to £25 billion a year by 2020.


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