It seems strange to be welcoming the arrival of armed guards on to ferries – and it is possibly a sign of the topsy-turvy nature of 2016 that we do so.
In years gone by, many would have baulked at the idea. It could have been seen as an over-reaction, or an unnecessary show of strength. Perhaps there would have been those who would have claimed it was a political move, one that spread fear in order to reinforce control.
Sadly, those days are now possibly behind us. Among other sadness in the world, we have seen – with horror – last night’s catastrophe in Berlin, in which a truck was driven into a Christmas market.
We have seen a similar atrocity in Nice, the suicide bombings in Brussels in March, and it is just over a year ago that the Paris attacks saw dozens killed.
In that context, security has had to be on everyone’s mind this year, and for a while it has been noted that cross-Channel ferries could be perceived as a weak link. While airport measures have been toughened and tightened, on ferries there is no routine stopping and searching of passengers or vehicles, although obviously it is appreciated that a great deal of observation and intelligence is used by security services.
On the surface you could argue that it would be a foolhardy terrorist who would try to hijack a ferry anywhere near the home of the Royal Navy, but in fact that possibly makes us more, not less, of a target – the publicity from a naval standoff with a ferry would be invaluable for anyone drumming up support for a cause.
And so it is with reluctance that we welcome the marshals.
We’d all rather live in a world where they were not needed, but given the scope of Islamic terrorism across mainland Europe this year it would be foolish to assume that Britain could not be a target too. Closer working with the French is only to our advantage too – and we only hope, with fervour, that these marshals are never called into action.