Mr Hayes said he is “determined that we can and must do more” to get women into careers at sea, which he said would help both the maritime industry and the wider economy to prosper.

“The ITF estimates that women make up only 2% of the world’s maritime workforce,” said the minister, “and those figures are replicated here in the UK too. Of the 14,350 officers in our country, only 3% are women. Only 4% of our technical officers are women. Of the 6,500 engine officers, only 1% are women. It means that talented women could be missing out on careers in which they could best use those talents.”

To address these issues, Mr Hayes said he will be holding meetings with “senior maritime figures” and writing to heads of maritime training campuses to gain the industry’s proposals for addressing this gender imbalance and he also plans to leverage the 2018 Year of Engineering, a collaboration between government and industry, to encourage women into marine engineering careers. 

“Unless we can get the message broadcast loud and clear and persuasively to young people that maritime industries are a place of choice, a place where they can build their futures, and unless we can redouble that effort with young women and encourage them to take options and pursue paths that will allow them to take advantage of those opportunities, we won’t be doing what is necessary to provide them with what they deserve but also to provide our industries, our economies, with what it needs,” he added.

Further, Mr Hayes noted technological change is inevitable and will shape the industry and the skills required of those it employs. This will create demand for a more diverse set of skills, which fuels employment.

“I want the UK to become a global leader in the field of autonomous ships. At the IMO, we are already leading work to identify and deliver regulatory changes with regards to autonomous vessels and we know that we also need to understand whether our infrastructure is able to cope with the challenges and opportunities that these vessels will doubtless present,” he went on.

Mr Hayes said the industry must lead the advance towards autonomy and that the expertise of the maritime sector would become ever more important in doing so.

“So it’s high time that the gender balance in this industry shifted too,” he concluded. “Let’s make 2018 the year the scales tip in favour of women in shipping. Let’s make a difference in that year of engineering that each and all of us can be proud of.”