Samuel Plimsoll, born 200 years ago, is celebrated for his work in creating the load line, an international standard that has saved countless lives at sea. Plimsoll and his wife Eliza fought for years against the overloading of ships, a dangerous practice that led to fatal consequences for their crew. The load line became compulsory for all ships entering British ports in 1876, and has since become an international standard, adopted by 162 nations.
Plimsoll’s campaign is more than a historical curiosity, as the load line has been under constant threat since his day. Modern tragedies caused by overloading, such as the loss of 304 people on the Sewol ferry in South Korea in 2014, echo the shipwrecks that fueled Plimsoll’s anger. For maritime safety campaigners today, learning from the past is critical, as Plimsoll taught that public opinion is powerful, moral issues are straightforward, and persistence pays off.
Plimsoll’s pertinence applies not only to maritime matters, but also to safety regulations in other sectors, where some people make money by risking the safety of others. The separation of profit and risk lies behind much suffering in our time, and examples of this are not hard to find. The legacy of Samuel Plimsoll lives on, as his work continues to inspire those fighting for safety regulations and protecting the lives of others.