The demands of 21st-century sexual equality have finally caught up with the shipping industry and its practice of classifying all vessels as feminine.
From Easter, Lloyd's List, the bible of the seas, will start referring to ships as "it" rather than "she", ending a tradition that dates back centuries. The controversial decision to "wipe out history" was greeted with disdain by both the Royal Navy and the Maritime Museum, which announced that they, at least, would continue to observe seafaring tradition.
Julian Bray, editor of the 268-year-old daily publication, acknowledged that Lloyd's List was expecting a "full and vibrant array of letters" from its readers. The newspaper, which claims to be the oldest in the world, provoked near-mutiny four years ago when it "tested the waters" on the subject. Captain Fred Boer wrote at the time: "As long as ships of every size and type require lots of paint to look good they will be referred to as 'she', at least by me."
The reaction was no less vociferous yesterday.
Pieter van der Merwe, general editor at the Greenwich Maritime Museum, explained that the origins of the convention reflected sailors' affection for the vessels carrying them across perilous seas. "They can also be bloody-minded and expensive but I don't know if that's got anything to do with it," he said. "You can say it's a small thing, but small things mount up. Political correctness should be resisted at every turn, in my view. We will continue to refer to ships as 'she'."
A spokesman for the Royal Navy said: "Lloyd's List is at liberty to do what they like, but the Navy intends to continue in a tradition that goes back centuries, if not millennia. It's not just a sentimental thing but a part of culture."
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