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The not-so-secret shipping industry

This article was originally published on LinkedIn

I read with interest this week that the UK Chamber of Shipping wanted to find out if the general public (and MPs) know that shipping is the biggest mover of UK imports/exports.

Spoiler alert: they do! Shipping is not as secret as you think!

This was the standout statistic: “87% of MPs and 84% of the public knew that the answer is shipping, disproving the belief that people do not understand shipping’s importance to the UK’s trading economy.” []

I’ve been in the shipping industry for just over four years now, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m the first person to bust out a shipping fact in company and I’m not afraid to be called a shipping geek. When I had my interview to be Spinnaker Global’s Head of Marketing back in 2013, I loved finding out that a global shipping recruitment company was based in Leigh-on-Sea, a small fishing town 40 minutes outside of London. Also my hometown: bonus!

We are on a common route for ships shuttling back and forth from Tilbury and London Gateway to the rest of Europe. In fact in the Spinnaker offices, I have what I think is the only desk that directly overlooks the Thames Estuary – I can look out and see container ships, passenger ferries and dredgers – how lucky am I? (It must be bad if I'm excited about dredgers…)

Southend-on-Sea, Leigh-on-Sea’s brash big sister, is home to the world’s longest pier, and often in my life I’ve stood one-and-a-half miles out to sea on its spindly structure, wind wild and strong, the shore seeming like a very long way away, and have seen enormous ships go by so close it feels like you could almost touch them (see pic right). And you can’t sit on a beach here without the huge ships being a big part of the view – and given the frequency of them, you really feel as though you’re staring global trade right in the face.

When the massive cranes for London Gateway arrived on a ship from China back in 2016, passing by our offices, it felt like a big moment. As a company dealing with shipping and freight forwarding companies on a daily basis, seeing ships go past helpfully gives context to what we do.

Of course, we already know about the importance of shipping, here at Spinnaker. But going back to the UK Chamber’s survey, I think about those people who aren’t immersed in the industry like us. I have non-shipping-industry friends who love the ship finder apps* to help them with their ship spotting. Even my Mum, who has no connection to the shipping industry other than me being in it, has always loved looking up ships both here in coastal Essex and when she’s on holiday, finding out where they’re going and what kind of cargo they have on board.

Shipping used to be an industry that only got press when something bad happened – it was all oil spills and piracy in the papers. But people are slowly getting it – shipping is amazing. It brings you 90% of your stuff, and as consumers (which we definitely are – the phone/device you’re reading this on almost definitely came by ship), that’s pretty essential. Millions of tonnes of freight move through UK ports (of which there are almost 100) every year.

The UK Chamber of Shipping survey cheered me because shipping shouldn’t be hidden; it’s a massive part of our lives in the UK (we are an island, btw, in case you’d not noticed), and the more people understand it, the more people will consider it a career option. Hey – it might even encourage more women into the industry, something that really needs to be encouraged.

Find out more about the UK Chamber of Shipping survey here:

Rachel Morgan, Head of Marketing, Spinnaker Global @SG_RMorgan

*While writing this article, 17 vessels are in Tilbury Port with 15 expected arrivals; that’s a fair few isn’t it? I’ll be sure to watch them out of my window when they go by.

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