THE annual Seawork marine exhibition and conference got underway today at Southampton port.

Around 450 exhibitors have set up shop in one of the two main halls at the dockside for the three-day networking and deal-making event, which will attract more than 8,000 visitors from Governments and large companies to smaller businesses and individuals.

Around a quarter of the exhibitors are from the southern region, including over 40 specifically from in and around Southampton.

A purpose-built marina is providing berths for 60 craft of all shapes and sizes, which will be available for demonstration in the water off the Western Docks.

Now in its 15th year Seawork is now recognised as a world-class shop window on the UK's marine industries, which employ about 90,000 people and generate annual sales of more than £10 billion.

Andrew Webster, MD of Seawork organisers Mercator Media, said: “Looking at the exhibition today, it's striking to see how it has grown from the first event in 1998, where we had just 24 vessels and a couple of hundred exhibitors. Without a doubt, the emergence of the offshore renewable energy industry world-wide has contributed to its growth but the commercial marine industry as a whole has proved resilient to the global economic situation. Visitors to this year's exhibition can see a whole host of new products from every aspect of the world of working boats. There's nothing like it.”

Among the specialist areas covered by the exhibition are be security, shipbuilding and repair, military requirements, civil engineering, safety and the environment.