A GIANT flag has been hoisted in East Ayrshire to mark Merchant Navy Day.

The local authority wanted to raise awareness of the UK’s ongoing dependence on Merchant Navy seafarers.

It came as bid to remind the community and younger generations how much the country relies on sea workers and their contribution to society.

Depute Provost Claire Leitch hoisted the Red Ensign, or ‘Red Duster’ in honour of the event.

East Ayrshire Council was supporting a nationwide call from the Seafarers UK charity and the Merchant Navy Association for the UK Merchant Navy’s official flag to be flown on public buildings and landmark flagstaffs.

Leader of the Council Douglas Reid welcomed guests to the flag raising ceremony and local veteran John Bannerman read out a message from the charity’s president, HRH The Earl of Wessex.

As an ‘island nation’ the UK relies on Merchant Navy seafarers for 95 per cent of our imports, but many people, particularly the younger generation, know little about ships and seafarers and fail to appreciate the vitalcontribution they make to our way of life.

Councillor Reid said: “We were pleased to support Merchant Navy Day which provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the real importance of our merchant shipping industry.

“Being an island nation, the vast majority of goods arriving or leaving from the UK do so by sea.

“We have always been a significant and successful maritime nation and it’s important to recognise the work of our merchant fleet both now and in the future.”

The Merchant Navy Fund said: “Since 2000, Merchant Navy Day has honoured the brave men and women who kept our ‘island nation’ afloat during both World Wars, and celebrated our dependence onmodern day merchant seafarers who are responsible for 95 per cent of the UK’s imports, including half the food we eat, plenty of the fuel we burn and virtually all the products and goods we take for granted.

“There are many locations where the Red Ensign can be freely flown ashore - civic centres, town halls, public libraries, village greens, churches, sports venues, historic buildings, tourist attractions, ports, etc.

“This year hundreds of local flag-hoisting ceremonies will be organised, involving VIPs, civic dignitaries, Merchant Navy veterans, naval cadets, etc.

"A message of support from HRH The Earl of Wessex is available to be read out at participating locations ‘to remember the sacrifices, salute the courage and support the future of the often unsung personnel of our Merchant Navy.’

“In 2019 our targetis for the Red Ensign to be flown ashore at more than one thousand locations across the UK.