Plimsoll Lines

I was chatting with a car sales employee the other morning, waiting my turn to speak with the sales rep with whom I had an appointment. He was a Geordie, the same as I am, and as we talked, the conversation ranged from football; of which I know absolutely nothing, through various cars and other vehicles we both had knowledge of; and ended up talking about shipping and Unions in Australia.

I was telling this young man of a stevedore foreman in Perth, who was also a Union rep. Now in those days, the Australian Unions ruled, and a ship’s captain, or a stevedore company, walked warily when the Unions were on the prowl. So, as I said, I was chatting to this foreman, and he asked me if I could see the Plimsoll marks on a ship which was berthed across the harbour from where we lay; as she was unusually low in the water. I fetched my binoculars, and saw firstly that she was flying the Blue Peter, which signifies ‘I am about to depart’; and then focussing on her marks, saw that she was sitting well below the ruling lines on the Plimsoll marks painted on her side midships. The foreman asked for a view, then raced ashore, called his office, and about ten minutes later the Port Captain’s guys were boarding the freighter, to stop her sailing illegally. The ship had to unload about three-four hundred tons of cargo before the ship complied with what is actually an Internationally-recognised regulation.

But the reason why I write this is simply because, in a country which survives because of the Sea, whose destiny and fate has always been bound to ships, shipping, and a naval tradition; this young man, an otherwise well-educated and obviously aware individual; had never heard of Samuel Plimsoll, or of the simple fact that, on EVERY ship which crosses any stretch of water, any ocean, anywhere: she must carry, by Law, the internationally-recognised Plimsoll markings; along with the name of the English MP who fought to make it so!


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