I trust and hope you all had an enjoyable and peaceful Christmas. My thoughts were with you all especially those who were not in the best of health or who had suffered bereavements. Many of you will live on your own but I want to remind you that you are not alone. Your friends of the Federation are with you and your volunteer staff at the Federation office are just a phone call away.
When I formed the Federation many years ago, there were challenges to be met and milestones to be measured to ensure that the Veterans of the Merchant Navy got their just recognition for their role in the defence and development of our Nation. With other similar organisations we met those challenges head on, and typical of seafarers of the Merchant Navy we would not take no for an answer when we knew the cause to be just. Merchant Navy Day, now nationally and internationally bedded into the annual calendar was a major milestone. Then came the official award of the United Kingdom Merchant Seafarers Veterans Badge, and another milestone. It seems like only yesterday when I stood in a packed national conference of Veterans and demanded that merchant seafarers be recognised in a similar manner to our colleagues of the Armed Forces. I recall with pride the day I led the first independent parade of merchant seafarers marching past our own Red Ensign on the Cenotaph at Whitehall during the annual Remembrance Service.
Much of what we and other similar organisations achieved is now being developed by major seafarers’ charities and in some respects by the Armed Forces. Whilst this brings greater exposure to the Merchant Navy we must be vigilant that it brings with it just recognition for our Veterans and ensure they are granted equal status with the Veterans of the Armed Forces. The maritime sector is crucial to the UK, with an economy of £35 Billion and 700,000 jobs and Brexit may bring many new challenges and changes to our merchant and fishing fleet. Whilst major institutions in the maritime sector are being consulted for their views by the Secretary of State for Transport other organisations are also having an impact and influencing decision making. The Merchant Mariners of Wight, one of our affiliated organisations, has recently written to the Minister and received a very positive reply regarding consultation.
A recent meeting of your Council reflected on the past and considered the way ahead for the Federation. The number of UK seafarers has dropped considerably and it is inevitable that the Veterans of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleet will drop in numbers too. Given the Ministry of Defence definition of a Veteran of the Merchant Navy the number of these Veterans will fall dramatically when our heroes of WWII, and operations such as the Falkland Island conflict decline in numbers. (Unlike the Armed Forces who only have to join the Armed Forces to qualify for the Veterans Badge whether they have been on operations or not.)
Like all milestones achievements become common place to travellers along a common path and the way ahead occupies the mind rather more than the ground covered in the past. However, milestones of the past will help us chart our way forward to continue to meet our original objective "to gain recognition for the role of the Merchant Navy in the defence and development of our Nation.” A happy and healthy New Year to you all and sincere thanks for your unstinting support for the Federation and your friendship over many years.