BBC ends seafaring voyage for radio show: Seamen's programme to be axed after 50 years

THE missions have all but gone. The special seafarers' hospital has closed. Now the BBC has caught up with the decline of the British merchant fleet and is ending its 50-year-old radio programme specially for seamen.

Once required listening for more than 130,000 officers and ratings across the world's oceans, Seven Seas, one of the six longest running radio shows in production, is to cease broadcasting next month.

It began as Shipmates Ashore in 1942, a year of Atlantic convoys and during which 1,000 merchant ships were lost. But now, with the entire UK registered fleet consisting of just 425 ships, the BBC World Service is recasting the programme as a general transport review, On the Move.

Immediately after the Second World War, the British fleet was the world's largest and represented 25 per cent of total tonnage. By 1970, this had dropped to 11 per cent and a number three ranking. In 1993, the UK represents one half of one per cent of the world fleet and is ranked number 33 with 18,000 seafarers, most of them working on coasters and cross-Channel ferries.

The first programmes, presented by Doris Hare, a singer, were innovative with a risque mixture of sailors and showgirls reproducing a club atmosphere from the Palais de Dance, Hammersmith, west London.

Tom Fournere, 73, a former seaman who lives at the Queen Victoria Seamen's Rest in east London, said of the programme: 'It was a sort of bridge between shore and ourselves. It shouldn't disappear.'