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Friday, July 24, 1998 Published at 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK

Business: The Economy

The tug of tradition

Despite the modern facade, Lloyd's embodies centuries of tradition

Despite the futuristic exterior, the heart of Lloyd's of London beats to a rhythm which is centuries old.

The insurance firm, established more than 300 years ago, is a respected institution amongst mariners.

Set up in a coffee house in the capital's Tower Street in 1760, the company dealt exclusively with the shipping industry until the late 19th Century, when it diversified.

Tempest unleashed

So when the company's newspaper, Lloyd's List, ventured to suggest that ships should no longer be called "she", a tempest was unleashed.

Now the publication has accepted that "for the considerable future", ships will be "she".

Messages of dissent - for the most part lighted-hearted - were dispatched from sea-farers across the country following the suggestion.

[ image: There
There "she" goes
Captian Fred Boer e-mailed the paper from his vessel, saying: "As long as ships of every size and type require lots of paint to look good they will be referred to as a 'she', at least by me."

Only one correspondent came close to endorsing a move away from the traditional feminisation of ships.

He pointed out that in shipping legislation, vessels are referred to as "it".

Newspaper editor Leigh Smith said: "We also heard from women who felt that calling ships 'she' demonstrated how important and respected women are and always have been.

"As a result of the response we have had, we will not stop calling ships 'she'.

"I personally am very happy about this.

"The possibility of a change came about when one of my colleagues in the newsroom raised the issue.

"TV and radio reports call ships 'it' and it was suggested that it might be appropriate for us to do so too.

"But we are the voice of the shipping industry and follow industry practice."

Origins of tradition

The Royal Navy is not amongst those that see the gender of their ships as an issue.

A spokesman told the Times newspaper: "Ships are normally referred to by their name, or simply as 'the ship'.

"They are Her Majesty's ships, so I suppose they could be female."

The origins of calling a ship "she" have been lost in the mists of time.

Leigh Smith said: "My own opinion on the subject is that because seafarers were away at sea for such a long time, they developed a close relationship with their ships.

"They came to regard them with a great deal of affection and the practice of calling them 'she' came about."

The great debate

Chris Jones, chairman of the Historical Maritime Society said: "There has been a great deal of debate on this subject on the Internet, particularly through Compuserve's forums.

"I personally don't think there will ever be a definitive answer.

"Although sailors being a bawdy lot, it is quite likely it has a lot to do with the movement of the ship beneath them!

"On a serious level, though, it is very important that British maritime traditions are upheld.

"We are an island race and so many aspects of naval terminology have come into common use over the centuries.

"Swinging the lead now means skiving, but it is a naval term which meant the practice of having one sailor measuring the depth of the water with a lead weight on a line.

"The other sailors obviously thought this was a much easier job to do."

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