Any retailer understands that customers now expect choice. In order to compete on the global market, it is important to provide customers with what they want. Without imports, the range of goods on offer would be significantly reduced, so we have become reliant on the ability to transport huge volumes of goods around the world.
As the global population has grown, so has the demand for goods. As the most viable means of cargo transportation, 80% of the products we buy and sell are shipped by boat. In response to the need to ship ever greater loads, advances in technology have enabled the development of unbelievably large vessels. These mega container ships have the capacity to carry over 10,000 containers, yet they can still float.
Merchant shipping fleets have also had to expand, so at any one time there are in excess of 50,000 merchant ships voyaging across the world’s oceans.
This is great news for consumers who want to stock up in the supermarkets, invest in a new car, buy the latest gadget or update their wardrobe. It does, however, impact on the safety of vessels, both in the open seas and in busy ports.
It is one thing to design and build a mega-sized container ship, but in order for it to operate, it is essential that shipping channels and port provisions can cope with vessels of such a grand scale.
In recent decades many of the world’s largest ports have had to invest in expansion plans in order that the new merchant ships, which can be over 390 meters in length, can reach the port and manoeuvre safely. The cranes, logistics and on-going infrastructure also need to be in place to successfully load and unload the ships.
When at the helm of such an imposing vessel, it takes time for the ship to respond to the controls. External factors such as strong winds or the movement of other vessels impact on how the ship moves. The captain and port controllers have to factor all of this in when bringing a ship into or out of port.
It is now a regular occurrence for large vessels to be passing along narrow shipping lanes in order to dock. This is a high-risk situation, where everyone involved has to be fully engaged in order to prevent a safety disaster.
In addition to providing a safe passage for ships, port employees also need to ensure that every vessel is compliant with marine regulations. This includes onboard checks of equipment, crew conditions, medical supplies for ships and the safe handling of hazardous goods.
Meanwhile, the on-board officers may need to take responsibility for balancing the load, crew safety, navigation, security and medical care in addition to their main duty.
Modern vessels benefit from internal alarms to warn of any onboard issues, along with radar and advanced communication systems. Despite this, there is still a need for paper charts, binoculars and other traditional maritime resources.
As an island nation, the UK is reliant on shipping to transport goods. Felixstowe, Grimsby & Immingham and the Port of London are amongst the largest trade ports and provide a link with mainland Europe. It is therefore little wonder that the Dover Strait is one of the busiest shipping channels in the world.
Around 400 shipping vessels pass through the Dover Strait every day, along with ferries, fishing vessels, leisure cruisers, scientific research boats and the occasional cross-channel swimmer. In such a congested stretch of water, it takes little imagination to work out the logistics involved in keeping everyone safe. Yet for many crews, this is just the start or end of an epic journey around the world.