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Shouting match over the Queen

THE QUEEN was regally unaware of a shouting match below decks on the Sir Galahad. An angry officer was insisting the crew left their stations to cheer Her Majesty. Seafarers however told him, in their colourful argot, that they would prefer not to.

The confrontation took place as a fleet of 30 vessels took part in the 175th anniversary celebrations of the British Sailors' Society at Southampton. While flags waved, bands played and the crew of all the other vessels dutifully paid their respects, the officer and crew of the Sir Galahad were locked in animated contention below decks.

Finally, in a rage, the officer warned that if they were refusing to take a 'direct order' they would be relieved of their contracts with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

In the end some of the crew went on deck and with reluctance, according to their union, awarded her majesty perfunctory acclamation. 'It wasn't so much that the crew were a bunch of rabid republicans, it was simply the attitude of the officer,' said Tony McGregor, deputy general sectetary of the RMT rail and sea union. The RMT has since complained to the Ministry of Defence who, according to the union, 'admonished' the officer concerned.

There is little doubt that seafarers are becoming more choosy about who they cheer, Mr McGregor said. 'When the Duke of York and Fergie were in Sydney a few years ago, a number of seafarers refused to cheer. They didn't see why they should be cheering Fergie,' he said.

John Prescott, Labour's transport spokesman and a former ship's steward, sympathises with the reluctant cheerers. 'I thought we'd fought the civil war to see an end to this kind of thing.'

But didn't he have to take a Loyal oath as an MP? 'I always slope over it and don't actually say the words.'