London: In 1946 at the age of 16, Robert Royan left the training ship HMS Condor to begin his career in the Merchant Navy. He immediately joined the Clan Line which he was to serve, along with its successors for his whole career. For the next 44 years Robert’s life at sea took him to every major port in the world.
In 1970 Royan was promoted Master of the Nina Bowater and he sailed on many ships in this capacity before being promoted Commodore in 1988 (pictured). He retired in 1990.
In his just released autobiography, From Cadet to Commodore – The End of a Sea-Going Era, Royan, 84, records a life at sea which was very different to that experienced today. It was a time when British ships proudly flew the red ensign and shipping lines employed British crews. Crewmembers very often were at sea for over a year before returning to their families when the ship reached home port. Consequently there was a sense of pride and community among the mariners which is not so evident today, he reckons.
Royan clearly laments the changing nature of shipping.
“Advances in technology over the last 50 years have changed greatly and many of the old skills have gone,” he says, adding that “sooner rather later” we should expect unmanned ships.
“The traditional shipowner, as we knew them, has disappeared and loyalty to a particular company has gone,” he says wistfully.
This proud British citizen also decries the island’s waning importance on the maritime map.
“The UK shipping industry has virtually disappeared,” he says, adding: “The British flag becoming an upmarket flag of convenience as a result of having regulations and standards superior to other nations.”
For those that hark back to a less corporate, more friendly shipping world, Royan’s work is a worthy throwback. [03/11/14]