News from European Maritime Heritage (EMH)

Two reports from European Maritime Heritage. The first records the latest news updates from EMH from Thomas Hoppe, while the second, from John Robinson, takes a longer view.

EMH News Update

EMH, the stakeholder organisation for owners and operators of traditional craft in Europe, is reshaping its structure.

It will be transformed from an informal organisation to a European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG) in January 2017 in order to have a stronger voice in politics, particularly in Brussels. We believe that this is an important step forward towards an even more powerful representation of shipowners and operators.

EMH held a very successful congress in 2016 in Pasaia (Spain), with the theme Problem solving strategies in Maritime Heritage. For more information about the congress see

There are ongoing discussions with the EU-Commission on the review of the European Directive on Passenger Ships, which opens the possibility of the certification of traditional vessels in Europe. We are focussing on the definition of what a historical ship is, how it can be exempted from modern safety rules, and how to define sailing vessels more precisely than in SOLAS, or the present European rules. EMH is trying to encourage stakeholder organisations all over Europe to make use of the possibilities granted by the Passenger Ship Directive. Experience has shown that countries which have implemented such rules created a rich environment of traditional vessels in operation, while others without such rules have difficulties in preserving their maritime heritage. EMH is discussing a setup of standardised rules for interested members.

The General Assembly of European Maritime Heritage will planned to be held on January 14, 2017 in Bremerhaven at the German National Maritime Museum (Deutsche Schifffahrtsmuseum).

Thomas Hoppe
Chairman, Safety Council, EMH 

Traditional & Historic Ships; to operate or not?

Some 25 years have elapsed since the Netherlands Maritime Museum, taking stock of the widespread ignorance among maritime museums of the nature and extent of traditional vessels preserved elsewhere than in museums, commissioned a Europe-wide survey from an independent consultancy, AGB Intomart Qualitatief. Questionnaires were sent to preservation organisations and clubs in 15 European countries. The average response rate was only 48%, largely because of the absence of up-to-date lists of such organisations. In a parallel survey, the Dutch ICOMOS Committee contacted sister Committees in other countries requesting details of national legislation covering historic ships and boats. The results of both surveys were presented at a European congress hosted by the Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam in 1992 and attended by 144 specialists from 13 countries. In his closing summary, the late Richard Foster strongly advocated closer co-operation between private owners, who are the custodians of the vast majority of Europe’s historic fleet, and museums.

Birth of EMH

A subsequent conference in Rochefort three years later endorsed the remarkable successes among private owners preserving ships. A fringe meeting of non-museum people there resolved to establish an ongoing forum where they could exchange information and best practice with the professional museum sector. From this arose the volunteer-run organisation known as European Maritime Heritage, which generally advocates the regular use of preserved vessels as the best way to prolong their lives. There are, regrettably, numerous examples in the UK, France and elsewhere of museums accepting more vessels for preservation than they have resources to care for. Large cargo-carrying sailing ships pose particular problems, as exemplified by the recent decision by the Honolulu Harbour Authority to impound the 138-year old Falls of Clyde, the last surviving iron-hulled 4-masted full-rigged ship, as a safety hazard. Her revenue as a museum ship was never sufficient to fund regular hull repairs.

Guiding an expanding market

A previous Chairman of EMH coined the slogan No income = no upkeep to focus on the need for preserved vessels to generate revenue. In the Netherlands, with its long-standing devotion to water transport and its extensive network of waterways, some 400 historic vessels are available for recreational use and thousands of people pay to sail on them each year. The charter market for historic and traditional ships continues to expand in Europe. Seeking to promote best practice in such activities, EMH promoted the Barcelona Charter, which since 2003 has offered guidance, currently in 15 languages, on the conservation and restoration of traditional ships in operation (see EMH website, above).

EMH has been delighted to participate in meetings of the ICMM-sponsored International Historic & Traditional Ships (IHTS) Panel. In that forum, and through the participation in its meetings of the sixteen maritime museums who make up its Advisory Group, EMH seeks to maintain fruitful contact between museum professionals, who rightfully resolve to hand on the objects in their care to the next generation as unaltered as possible, and those in the operational sector who equally value the skills of operating such vessels as a living expression of our maritime cultural heritage.

John Robinson


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