HEALTH: Sailors steer clear of the dry life

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The drunken sailor is a not just a character from a sea shanty - he is alive and unwell and living in Scotland.

A survey which followed 15,000 Royal Navy submariners for 30 years, found that the sailors' death rate from cirrhosis of the liver was more than twice the national average and was particularly high in Scotland. Moreover, four times as many of them died from alcoholic poisoning as men in the population as a whole. Not surprisingly, three times as many drowned.

Despite the incidence of cirrhosis, the submariners had a lower death rate than the male population as a whole because they got less skin cancer, leukaemia and respiratory disease.

The study, published today in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, looked at a group who trained in both diesel and nuclear submarines between 1960 and 1979, and followed them until 1989.

A Navy spokesman said: `We have a fairly sensible programme of education and guidance on alcohol. Although the death rate from cirrhosis was higher than average in the Navy in the 1970s, it evened out in the 1980s."