Research Reveals Seafarers Bring Our Favourite Foods (But No One Knows It)

Survey reveals major misconceptions about the scale and importance of the UK maritime industry.

The vast majority of people in the UK don’t realise they rely on seafarers to bring them their favourite foods, new research has revealed.

A survey of one thousand people across the UK – commissioned by charity Seafarers UK as part of Seafarers Awareness Week (, 21-29 June 2014) – has revealed major misconceptions about the scale and importance of the UK maritime industry, with less than half of people (43 per cent) knowing that the vast majority of food we import comes to us by sea.

Half the food eaten in the UK is imported and, of this, a staggering 95 per cent comes by ship (a fact known by only two per cent of the public.) Yet despite this, a quarter of us (27 per cent) assume the bulk of our food comes by air and one in five of us (20 per cent) think it comes by road.

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The top item Brits can’t live without is the potato – with almost half of those surveyed (43 per cent) saying it’s their favourite food we import. A staggering 465,000 tonnes of spuds are imported every year to support our passion for the potato – the equivalent weight of 38,750 London buses.

Next on the maritime menu is cheese – with 40% of people saying they couldn’t live without it – closely followed by sugar and rice (both 39%), chocolate (37%) and the banana (35.5%).

As an island nation, the UK relies on merchant shipping for 95 per cent of its imports and 75 per cent of exports. The UK’s sea ports handle over half a billion tonnes of goods a year* with 1.5 million seafarers employed in the global shipping industry, of which 71,310** people are from the UK. Our most valuable food export is chocolate – with £571m exported every year by sea.

Yet, according to Seafarers UK, the vital importance of this hidden industry often goes unrecognised due to what it calls ‘sea blindness’.

TV presenter and maritime expert Monty Halls is spearheading this year’s campaign. He said: ‘It’s ironic that in the month the world has paid fantastic homage to those who took part in the D-Day landings, that so few of us appreciate how much we continue to rely on the maritime industry today.

‘As an island nation we rely heavily on seafarers to bring vital food, fuel and other goods into the UK. Many seafarers work around the clock, sometimes in extremely dangerous and hazardous conditions, and campaigns such as Seafarers Awareness Week are incredibly valuable in highlighting how much we rely on an industry that is essential to our everyday lives, but that often operates over the horizon or hidden from view.’

Barry Bryant, Director General of Seafarers UK, said:  ‘The maritime industry is one of the oldest in the world and today remains the number one means of bringing vital food into the UK, as well as most other household items from phones to fridges, iPads to irons. Yet shockingly our research found that a third of us think seafarers are less important today than 100 years ago.

‘It’s a concern people don’t understand how much seafarers do for us. Not just importing food and other goods but also exporting UK-made produce, keeping shipping lanes open and protecting the UK’s interests at home and abroad. It’s therefore critical that when seafarers do fall on hard times, that we are ready to support them and their dependants. That’s what Seafarers Awareness Week is all about.’

An average container ship travels the equivalent of three quarters of the way to the moon and back in one year during its regular travel across the oceans. A single 20-foot container can hold approximately 48,000 bananas – so in theory the average container vessel can carry approximately 746 million bananas in a single voyage – enough to give everyone in Europe and North America a banana for breakfast.***

Seafarers Awareness Week ( is the biggest campaigning initiative in the maritime calendar and runs from 21-29 June. It is run by Seafarers UK – a grant-making charity which helps people in the maritime community by providing vital funding to support seafarers in need and their families.

It does this by giving money to organisations and projects which make a difference to people’s lives across the Merchant Navy, Fishing Fleets, Royal Navy and Royal Marines. In 2013, Seafarers UK gave grants totalling £2.5 million to 84 maritime welfare charities and other organisations.

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