The Trent class all-weather lifeboat

Five years after leaving Sunderland's RNLI station, the Trent class all-weather lifeboat, RNLB MacQuarie, is back in north-eastern waters undertaking relief duties at Hartlepool.

She took up station at the town's Irvine's Quay early in August to deputise during the absence of regular Trent lifeboat, RNLB Betty Huntbatch, which is undergoing her five-yearly refit at Poole.

Since arriving at Hartlepool, the 14.26-metre MacQuarie has been working in conjunction with the station's Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat, BBC Radio Cleveland, and has been called out to seven incidents.

MacQuarie was stationed at Sunderland between 1997 and 2004, during which time she was launched on service on 282 occasions, saving 16 lives.

She was replaced by an Atlantic 75 rigid inflatable craft, which in turn was succeeded by a state-of-the-art Atlantic 85, both of which have proved highly capable of undertaking the RNLI's mission on Wearside.

Since leaving Sunderland, MacQuarie has served in the RNLI's relief fleet. Apart from her current spell at Hartlepool and one at Port St Mary on the Isle of Man during 2007, she has been stationed at various Scottish lifeboat stations, including those at Invergordon, Eyemouth, Dunbar, Wick and Troon.

While in reserve, MacQuarie has been tasked to 57 incidents resulting in the saving of five lives and assistance being rendered to another 65 individuals.

* Maritime statistics for 2008, published by the Department for Transport last month, reveal a small decrease in freight traffic handled by UK ports as compared with the previous year.

Ports handled 562 million tonnes (Mt) of freight last year – three per cent down on 2007 and one per cent less than in 1998.

The top five ports in terms of tonnage were:

(1) Grimsby and Immingham – 65.3 Mt

(2) London – 53 Mt

(3) Tees and Hartlepool – 45.4 Mt;

(4) Southampton – 41.0 Mt

(5) Forth – 39.1 Mt.

Dover, the chief ro-ro port, handled 2.3 million road goods vehicles, with Felixstowe, the leading container port, handling 1.9 million containers.

International sea passenger journeys fell by two per cent to 24.2 million, while accompanied passenger car traffic dropped by three per cent to 6.5 million vehicles.

Ships arriving in UK ports totalled 131,000 – a drop of six per cent.

On a more positive note, the UK registered trading fleet increased by 29 to 675 ships, with overall deadweight tonnage increasing to 15 million tonnes – 15 per cent up on 2007 and 456 per cent up on 1998.

The fleet included 133 ro-ro vessels, 133 tankers, 190 container ships and 37 passenger vessels.

Listed as one of the UK's 51 major ports, the Port of Sunderland handled 805,000 tonnes of cargo during 2008.