Selected events in Danish maritime history

With Frederik the Second at the helm

When writing Danish maritime history, it is difficult to ignore Frederik the Second. On 8 June 1560, he decides to erect the first Danish lights in the Skaw, on the island of Anholt and on Kullen in present-day Sweden and, thereby, he sows the seeds of the Danish lighthouse authority. The following year, Frederik the Second introduces the first maritime law, regulating the relationship between the master and the shipowner, the obligations of the mate and on-board discipline. The word "pilotman" also occurs for the very first time.

Keelhauling and being put in the clink

In former times, the seamen were poorly trained in navigation and sailing. Therefore, King Christian the Fourth establishes a navigation school in 1619 which is housed in the loft of the Holmens Church. But a remark by the King in 1641 bears witness to whether the training is sufficiently good – he says that among the 200 men on board his ship ST SOFIE "there were hardly 40 who could adjust a compass."   

The Danish Law of King Christian the Fifth from 1683 replaces the maritime law of King Frederik the Second. It states, inter alia, that if a seaman cannot pay a fine for "incompetence", he will be punished by keelhauling. This means that he will have to be dragged three times below the keel. A seaman who is so unfortunate as to be found in an "improper house" will have to be put in the clink for three days on a diet of bread and water.

Hanged on the beach

A strict eye is also kept on the pilot's personality and conduct of life. The pilot regulations from 1831 states that a regular pilot must be a "sober, careful and knowledgeable seaman with drive and speed". If the pilot fails, he is in for it; at least at the time of King Frederik the Fifth. Thus, the King decides that "if the pilot has committed a mistake and given rise to damage to the ship and this has been done deliberately, he should be hanged on the beach".

Steam ships get developments going

During the  19th century, steam ships are getting common and the dangerousness of steam boilers is the direct reason why the authorities determine by a decree from 1832 that the ships must be approved by "skilled men". Steam ships also give rise to a need for a new training programme for seafarers, and in 1874 the first act on the engineer officer training programme is introduced.

Ship loss with global consequences

The loss of TITANIC is the story testifying that "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". And, what could not happen, does actually happen: The seemingly ice-secured and unsinkable de-luxe liner hits and iceberg on its maiden voyage and sinks, during the course of the events the captain gives the wrong orders, there are not a sufficient number of lifeboats, and the ones available are not filled. About 1500 persons were lost in the ice-cold water. During this time, parts of the crew are allegedly trying to keep up appearances: The story has it that the band moved to the deck and accompanied the loss with music and that the captain's last words consisted in the laconic request: Be British!

The loss of TITANIC makes it clear that global regulations on safety at sea are needed. Therefore, a number of countries join forces in 1914 to launch the SOLAS Convention, which - in a wider sense - stipulates guidelines and regulations on the safety of ships and shipping: Technical installations, fire-fighting, life-saving appliances, handling of dangerous goods, communication equipment, etc. The establishment of the State Ships Inspection by Denmark in 1920 is also a consequence of the SOLAS Convention, and this forms the basis of today's inspection practice. The SOLAS Convention is unique because today it has been signed by far most countries in the world, and it is a Bible to many employees of the Danish Maritime Authority.

Regulation in an international framework

The loss of TITANIC is also the reason why the UN established its own maritime organisation (IMO) in 1958, which today has 170 member States. The IMO is the forum where important shipping policy decisions are taken on, for example, seafarers' employment and social conditions and on environmental issues. The organisation plays a major role in connection with the Danish Maritime Authority's development of rules and regulations. We have also taken initiatives in the IMO, for example (together with Norway) to develop the Polar Code, which contains common regulations on navigation in Arctic regions.