WEEKEND WEB: My salute to all those who look after us

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As Minister for Shipping, I often think of John Masefield’s celebrated lines: “I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide / Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.”

Seafaring is a deep-rooted part of our history, from the first naval forces of the pre-Norman Kings, to Nelson’s famous victories and the more recent sporting successes of Britain’s Olympic sailors. Even today, 95 per cent of the goods we use and consume come to us by sea.

When many think of the sea, minds perhaps turn to memories of placid breaking waves from summer holidays.

By contrast, last week I was given a first-hand lesson in the power of our coastal waters when visiting the Severn Area Rescue Association lifeboat crew in Sharpness, Gloucestershire.

In the wind and rain, three of SARA’s dedicated volunteers took me out on to the choppy waters of the Severn Estuary to experience a taste of what they do day in day out.

The purpose of my visit was to announce that the Government will be giving the station £110,000 following its successful bid to the £5million Rescue Boat Grant Fund, launched in 2014.

Most of that money will be spent on a new lifeboat for the crew, with more power and greater capacity, at a time when new housing and marina developments will make Sharpness a hotspot for maritime activity.

It is vital to make all our waterways safe and to protect those who use them.

During this season of Remembrance, countless of us will sing the famous Naval Hymn – “Eternal Father, strong to save” – with its heartfelt prayer, “Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, / For those in peril on the sea!”

My visit last week was a timely reminder of the fact that so many of the things we enjoy – our homes, our recreations, our liberty itself – are protected and maintained only because others – from voluntary organisations to the Armed Forces – are willing to take risks on our behalf, often in immensely difficult circumstances.

It was humbling to recognise the dedication, bravery and skill of one such organisation last week, and this column is my salute to them and others like them.


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