‘All at sea’: Royal Navy faces ‘perilous’ 4k sailor shortage, looks to foreign recruits

© Phil Noble
Britain’s Royal Navy faces a ‘perilous’ shortage of up to 4,000 sailors due to cuts and recruiting shortfalls that may leave the service unable to man its ships unless foreign matelots are recruited to fill the gap, according to former senior military figures.

From a naval point of view, there is a serious problem. It’s said to be when I last spoke to the Fleet Commander, of the order of 3,500 to 4,000 people,” former Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham told the Daily Mail.

He warned that without an increase in numbers there would be no sailors to operate developed ships.

There is a serious manpower problem which will negate some of the investment we are making in equipment unless it is addressed. There is a deal on the table but it falls very, very far short,” he said.

This predicament, Blackham argued, means the navy may have to look “at the possibility of recruiting from other appropriate nations to assist with manning ships.

Nationalities being considered included Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians, with French sailors also a possibility. The Royal Air Force (RAF) is also said to be looking at a similar scheme.

Addressing the Commons Defence Select Committee on Tuesday, another former military officer, Bob Stewart MP, said the Navy’s situation had become “perilous.

Overseas recruiting initiatives have been tried as recently as 1998, when military regulations were changed to allow more recruits from Commonwealth countries to join the army in order to find physically appropriate individuals and to address the ethnic imbalance in the British Army.

In 2013 it was reported that as many as 6,000 Commonwealth citizens were serving in the army.

The Royal Navy has a long history of recruiting foreign sailors. Of the 13,000 sailors in Nelson’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, a thousand were from countries other than Britain.

They included Africans, Chinese, Brazilians, 24 Spaniards and, despite the fact the enemy was France, 54 Frenchmen.