Marine Offences Act – 40th Anniversary - 14th August 2007
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(This Article is dedicated to Steve Kemp former DJ Steve Day and avid offshore pirate supporter)

The 14th of August marks the 40th anniversary of the Marine offences Act; in fact the law came into force at midnight so was enforceable from the 15th. This law closed all but one of the Radio stations that had been operating on ships and forts off the UK coast.

During the months leading up to the act becoming law extreme pressure was placed on the government and the BBC to provide an alternative to the slick presentation and top 40 records that so many listeners had grown accustomed to. The pirate stations had had a good run for their money with the first offshore broadcasts reaching UK homes from 1964 onwards.

Stations such as Radio London, Radio Caroline, Radio City became household names at a time when the music industry was pleased to be given the opportunity to promote their records. Radio Caroline was launched for that very reason to promote artists and their records by providing air time to bands that may not have been given the opportunity on the then stilted BBC service.

Many people remember the offshore pirates in a nostalgic haze of better days, but the stations were in business to make money and the offshoot of this was the exposure of the public to some of the best music ever released during the 20th century.

Radio Caroline soldiers on

One station that did soldier on after the act became law was Radio Caroline. The MV Caroline which had anchored off the Essex coast started broadcasting at 12 midday Easter Saturday 1964. It was shortly joined on the North Sea by Radio Atlanta from the radio ship MV Mi Amigo and by the summer of 1964 the 2 stations had merged, the MV Caroline moved to the Irish Sea and was known as Radio Caroline North and the MV Mi Amigo stayed in the North Sea and that was known as Radio Caroline South.
When the Marine Offences Act was passed in August 1967, the 2 ships stayed on the air, however, by March 1968, the money had run out (thanks mainly to the Marine & Broadcasting Offences Act 1967) and on March 3rd both ships were towed by the tender company back to Holland.
The MV Caroline was broken up, but the Mi Amigo eventually went back to sea in 1972 and started broadcasting once again as Radio Caroline, however the ship was not in a good state of repair and eventually sank in 1980.

The station returned to the air on Saturday August 20th , 1983 from a new ship the MV Ross Revenge and at the time it had the tallest mast, (300 feet) ever fitted to a floating vessel. The mast was so tall that as the ship steamed across the Bay of Biscay it set off a full scale NATO alert.

From the Daily Mail 16th August 1983:

A mystery DJ doing his craft

Our Rob in the Ross Revenge Engine room

Martin Hill aboard the Ross Revenge anorak style

The MV Ross Revenge survived the hurricane of 1987 but the mast was weakened and shortly afterwards it collapsed. The end came in 1989 when the ship was boarded by Dutch officials who confiscated much of the broadcasting equipment. After about 6 weeks, transmissions did recommence for another year, but the dream was really over by then.

So how did the Marine & Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 actually silence the offshore pirates?
Well basically the act made it an offence to broadcast from any ship, structure or other object in external waters or in tidal waters in the United Kingdom or from a ship registered in the UK, the Isles of Man or any Channel Islands while on the high seas. So to get round this the ship had to sit in international waters and be registered in say for example Panama, as was the last Radio Caroline ship the Ross Revenge.
The act also closed down any businesses operating with connections to the above which basically closed of the stream of revenue from advertising, thus forcing the operations overseas.
And just when you thought the going is getting tough, the act also prohibits the act of facilitating broadcasting from and providing supplies, equipment and transport to any ship, structure or other object in external waters or in tidal waters in the United Kingdom etc. It also made it an offence to make programmes for pirate broadcasters, so basically all links with the UK were officially severed. It’s no wonder then, that stations like Radio London decided to pull the plug on the 14th August 1967.
The Act was worded well and left little option but for radio stations like Caroline to head for the High seas, sitting in international waters and being officially supplied with supplies and equipment from Europe, although during my trip out to Caroline during the 1980’s the boat carrying the party was also carrying a replacement audio isolation transformer that linked the studio output to the transmitter, unofficially that is!

From the Daily Mail, August 13th 1985:

1967 became a sad year for broadcasting and it took many years before Commercial Radio started to fill the gap left behind. Pirate stations come and go and the influence they have made on the freedom of choice varies, but one thing is clear, the demand for freedom of expression can never be suppressed.

Article written by Martin Clarke (former Surrey Sounds DJ Martin Hill) and edited for the web by Roger Hall (The Rock God)


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Friday, November 9, 2007
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