Sunset over the Red Ensign : the decline of the British deepsea shipping 1945-89.
This thesis investigates the decline of the British deepsea merchant
fleet over the period 1945-1989, a decline evident in both relative terms
against its major competitors and from the mid-1970s in a dramatic fall in
tonnage of the British-owned fleet. For the purposes of analysing the
industry's poor performance, it is necessary to divide the period into
three distinct phases: post-war reconstruction without radical innovation
(1945-65); rapid technological and market developments (1966-73); and
severe, prolonged depression (1974-89). Methodologically, therefore,
explanations valid in one phase need not apply throughout the whole
Chapter One sets out the scope of the study, sUlll1l8.I'ises the declining
fortunes of British shipping, and explains the approaches used to identify
its causes. Chapters two to six present analytical treatments of these
causes. First, British
shipowners were slow to respond to the massive
Second, they took a pessimistic view of the
markets and were reluctant to engage in new ventures until the mid-1950s.
In 1958-66 and again from 1973 all shipowners had to contend with severe
depressions. TIlird, there was a lack of action in controlling operating
costs before 1965 and again from 1973. In the first period shipowners
proved unwilling to use external finance, although the drawbB.cks of the
more progressive policy were evident from 1974. Fourth, the government
restricted profitability and increased the tax burden until more aid was
provided from 1956, while other states' protectionism hit liner operators.
Fifth, the shipowners were reduced by continual attrition, from the 1960s
by consolidation of ownership and by diversification out of
These in turn reflected a chanie in the nature of management
traditional control by the founding families. Chapters Seven
comprise five case-studies of a representative selection of shipowners in
relation to issues raised in the preceding analytical chapters.