British shipowners

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A sheet of flags

The sheet reads: The Liverpool Journal of Commerce is now enlarged and contains later and more comprehensive shipping and commercial news than any other paper. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

Sometimes you have to leave a place to find it again, if you know what I mean.

Liverpool once had many small shipping offices which did good business supplying goods and passengers to the many vessels using the port. Gradually they largely disappeared and are now a fading memory.

Some years ago I went to Las Palmas, the busy capital of Gran Canaria and a shopping mecca. I wandered off to the dock area one sunny day and stumbled across busy little shipping offices. They were like those I remembered in Liverpool with wide wooden counters and ornate metal grills.

In keeping with much of modern business, most ships today are owned by large multi-national companies. These enterprises are often involved in other ventures such as property development, finance or leisure facilities. They operate on a global scale whether by raising money, buying ships or engaging crews.

Many ships are registered in countries like Liberia or Panama where regulations are less stringent than in Britain. Until the 1950s, most ships using British ports were owned by British shipping companies with familiar names such as Blue Funnel.

Most of these concerns were founded in the mid-1800s and were often controlled by families with long maritime traditions. However, only a few independent shipping companies survive today.

On display in the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Life at Sea gallery is a colourful spread from Liverpool’s Journal of Commerce of 1882 (pictured) showing flags and funnels of shipping companies that figured in the boom years of the port.

Britain, as an island nation, will continue to rely on merchant ships and seafarers long into the future. Most goods still go by sea and sea travel is growing in popularity.

A new exhibit in the gallery illustrates the impact of container ships in modern sea transport and trading. It is a 10 ft long model of the Liverpool Bay, built in 1971. The ship was built in Kiel, Germany, for the Ocean Steamship Group founded by renowned Liverpool shipowner Alfred Holt in 1865.

The 58,000 tonne Liverpool Bay was one of the new generation of ships designed to handle containers. She could carry more than 2,300 containers and was one of five sisters built at the same time, originally sailing to East Asia.

Huge ships are now a familiar sight on the Mersey but I remember vividly the impact of vessels like the Liverpool Bay arriving for the first time in the early 1970s.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).