An introduction to maritime

The maritime industry is vital to the UK economy.  Ninety-five per cent of the UK's international trade in goods travels by sea and the combined net overseas earnings of maritime services and shipping is worth about £2.5 billion a year.

The City of London is the world's leading maritime centre, controlling about one fifth of the world fleet, and overseas owners with agencies in the UK sustain more than 4,500 City jobs including shipping law, banking and insurance.  The United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) is based in London.

The Department for Transport has a range of responsibilities covering the maritime industry.

Our overall objectives are to:

  • Put together policy that ensures the UK balances commercial interests with safety, security and environmental considerations;
  • Promote a successful, safe and sustainable UK ports sector that meets the needs of its customers;
  • Encourage shipping companies to be British registered;
  • Implement and influence European Union legislation;
  • Ensure efficient delivery and modernisation of marine aids to navigation.


The nation's ports are vital gateways for UK trade and it is our role to ensure they operate efficiently, safely and sustainably.  We want to see a successful ports industry whether in private, trust or local authority ownership.  The private sector continues to invest in ports and particularly in the growth sectors of container and roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) ferry capacity.

In 2000 we published the Modern Ports policy framework and we are now reassessing policy in a major review.  Following extensive consultation last summer, conclusions from this Ports Policy Review will be set out during 2007, and will ensure development is integrated with DfT policies on road and rail networks.


The number of vessels registered under the UK flag has been increasing for a number of reasons.  Probably the main factor has been the Tonnage Tax introduced in 2000.  This is an alternative method of calculating corporation tax using the net tonnage of the ship operated.  It is linked to an obligation on shipping companies to provide training.

The Department is committed to the Quality Shipping initiative which commits us to strive for high quality, good public reputation and predictable performance for all UK-registered ships.

But the Department's interest in maritime also extends to the environment and we are currently supporting the consultaiton on the EU Maritime Green Paper which is looking at all maritime issues.


Government's responsibility for overseeing the safe operation of shipping also extends to the provision of aids to navigation through the General Lighthouse Authorities:

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)

The MCA's responsibility includes co-ordinating search and rescue at sea through Her Majesty's Coastguard, and checking that ships meet UK and international safety rules.  It works to prevent the loss of lives at the coast and at sea, to ensure that ships are safe, and to prevent coastal pollution.

Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB)

The MAIB examines and investigates all types of marine accidents to or on board UK-registered ships worldwide, and other ships in UK territorial waters.  It operates independently of the Department in the investigation of marine accidents.  For the MAIB, the sole objective or investigating an accident is to determine its circumstances and causes, with the aim of improving the safety of life at sea and the avoidance of accidents in the future; it is not to apportion liability or blame.