Commodore Malcolm Williams, chief executive of the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society, discusses the importance of supporting those who risk their lives daily in an industry fraught with peril.
Since records began, fishing has topped the list of most dangerous jobs, with a recent survey showing that workers are up to 50 times more likely to perish while working at sea compared to those in other occupations*.
It was for that reason the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society was founded in February 1839, four months after the loss in a storm of 21 men from the Clovelly fishing fleet. Since then, over our 177 year history, we have helped hundreds of thousands of fishermen and mariners as well as their dependants in need.
The scale of ships lost off our coast can be difficult for us to comprehend. During the 19th Century the Society would typically be providing assistance to 12-13,000 people every year, including 8,000 widows, orphans and aged parents and 3-4,000 individuals directly involved in shipwrecks.
During the two world wars, the Society gave assistance to over 120,000 people and a significant number of them were fishermen. These were brave men indeed, whose contribution to the war effort cannot be underestimated. Many of them engaged in minesweeping and convoy protection as well as continuing to catch the nation’s food.
Thanks to modern technology and safety equipment, the loss of life has been dramatically reduced, making our title more of a metaphor as the majority of people we assist are retired and finding it difficult to make ends meet. But accidents at sea do still occur and with tragic consequences – and we are there to assist if needed.
In 2015, the Society distributed more than £1.4million worth of financial support in over 2,200 cases. But there are many people out there who need support yet might not be aware of our Society and its work. If you know anyone who would benefit from our help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via the details on our website: www.shipwreckedmariners.org.uk
With the Society’s work remaining as important today as it was when we were founded we look forward to being of service to the seafaring community for many years to come.
*According to a study by researchers at Oxford University in 2012.