‘Our industry thrives on chaos’: Andrew Craig-Bennett on today’s referendum

The British Daily Telegraph newspaper recently carried an article about the reluctance of British men and women to go to sea for a career, because, it tells us, they cannot bear to be parted from the internet.

This came as something of a surprise to Alex Craig-Bennett, aged 21, currently a deck cadet on CNCo’s Wuhu, in mid-Atlantic, but his principal annoyance is that he cannot vote in today’s referendum on British membership of the European Union, because the British government has not adapted its proxy voting procedures to the age of the internet – he would have needed to physically receive a form sent to him by snail mail, sign it, get it countersigned by his employer, and posted back by snail mail. Had he been able to do so, he would have voted REMAIN.

The Daily Telegraph chose to illustrate its article about recruitment into merchant shipping with a photo of a warship, and tried to explain the world of merchant shipping to its readers by describing the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Clearly, nobody in the offices of one of Britain’s so-called ‘serious’ newspapers has a clue about merchant shipping, which is rather a pity, as my mentor in matters of maritime journalism, Michael Grey, once told me that the last ‘mainstream’ newspaper to employ a full time shipping correspondent had been… the Daily Telegraph.

What will today’s referendum in Britain on membership of the EU mean for shipping?

At one level, not a lot. If sanity prevails, and the British choose to remain in one of the world’s better clubs, the only effect will have been a temporary tightening in the supply of currency hedges against the volatility of sterling.

If, on the other hand, the lunatics take over the asylum, and the sort of rabble rousing, anti-foreigner, anti-immigrant, backward looking, Poujadist sentiment which the Leave campaign have summoned up since they discovered that their economic case does not fly, and which has already led one mentally unstable right wing fool to murder his much admired member of parliament, finds support with more than half the voting population of Britain, then the implications for shipping are, as with all disruptive events, rather better.

Our industry thrives on chaos. We might be about to get a good dose of it.

The Leave campaign has not made us aware of what their plans are, since they don’t have any, but, should they win, Britain would have a choice of ‘doing a Norway’ and staying in the single market, which would mean no change at all except that Britain would lose the right to vote in the EU, or of coming out of the single market, in which case Britain will find it increasingly hard to trade with the EU. Which should be good for ton mileage, assuming that a Britain that has lost 40% of its export market can afford to buy anything.

The facts that I have set out in the first two paragraphs of this column show that Britain has forgotten all about the sea, anyway, so the British reaction will be, ‘Who cares?’, but the typical British household will care soon enough, as the currency falls through the floor and unemployment rises.

So much for the simple shipping economics. There is a bigger picture – the sweep of right-wing populism across the planet will have taken another scalp, as Britain turns to the dark side. The Philippines, democracy’s canary in the coal mine, chose the ninth of last month to elect a populist who campaigned on a promise to “solve crime within six months” and who has endorsed extra- judicial killing. Britain following suit would mean that the world we have grown up in has really changed.

For this, I blame Mark Zuckerberg.

He is no populist ‘Know Nothing’, but his invention, Facebook, has become, in the past couple of years, the instrument of most political discourse. It was just that in the recent Philipines election, where 43.5m people out of 100m use it, and Facebook has, for the moment, become the principal source of what passes for news, in the minds of the average voter.

“On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”, as we used to say in the earlier, gentler age of the web, and, beyond question, on Facebook, those who cannot recognise misspelling, cannot tell that the ‘trending meme’ that they have just passed on is wildly inaccurate. In the social media, Jack’s as good as his master.

If the Leave campaign win in Britain today, Vlad Putin will be very happy, and the truly terrifying spectacle of President Trump will become less implausible.

“Down with the elites! Down with the Great Bilderbergian Conspiracy! Down with foreigners! Build walls! Let’s have a war!”

Put a tanker on storage, snap up some offshore boats, and buy that bulker…

Andrew Craig-Bennett

Andrew Craig-Bennett works for a well known Asian shipowner. Previous employers include Wallem, China Navigation, Charles Taylor Consulting and Swire Pacific Offshore. Andrew was also a columnist for Lloyd's List for a decade.


  1. Well written – provides a quick risk assessment and the potential outcome of hasty decisions and populist posturing. Let’s hope that sanity prevails….

    1. Thank you, Captain Mhatre – and I hope so, too. But I am worried.The dreadful power of a social media “meme” is that we are attuned to responding very fast, and with emotions, to images – the result of millions of years as a prey species, perhaps – but we react much more slowly to reasoned argument. The effect is that we tend to adopt a position based on our “gut” response, and to “justify” it after the event.

      I might offer an analogy in terms of ship stability – the gut response is to ballast the high side… the learned, rational response is to think of the CofG… but to do that takes calm and logic, because it is counter intuitive…

  2. Well written – provides a quick risk assessment of the potential outcome of hasty decisions and populist posturing. In the end, we hope that sanity prevails…

  3. Probably the best explanation I have seen in recent weeks of what the world is coming to. I have been dismayed at the level of discourse in the UK regarding the referendum and from having a mindset only a few weeks ago of “of course they’ll stay” I now find myself thinking that they cannot seriously be considering leaving….. can they? It seems that events in the UK have proven my decision to leave some 11 years ago to be well founded. If leave get their way would somebody please turn the lights off and shut the door?

    1. Thank you Paul, and I feel very much that way myself. If “leave” win, as I fear they may, I will be thinking very carefully about where may be best for my family and I…

  4. Without a doubt one of the best articles I have read throughout this referendum campaign. Just thankful that we moved our home permanently to France 14 years ago. We certainly will not return if the “leave” camp win. Andrew, I hope you have posted your article on Facebook? I cannot, as, much to the annoyance of my family, I refuse under any circumstances to use the time-waster!

    1. Thank you for those kind words, Chris. Frankly, I doubt if anything other than a meme with a photo of a fluffy kitten would have any effect on British readers of Facebook! I do use Mr Zuckerberg’s Invention to correspond with friends in other places, though, hence my only too encyclopaedic knowledge of “What Went Wrong” in the Philippines elections!

      Tomorrow I will either wake up in the country that I thought I knew, and have lived in for a fair part of my life, in which case I shall continue to think of myself as an Englishman, or the lies put about by the Forces of Darkness will have triumphed, in which case I will become a political refugee, with Scots, French and American antecedents… at the moment, spending summers in an independent Scotland and winters in the Philippines seems attractive…

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