THEY play a vital role in the UK’s shipping industry, and now an annual service will pay tribute to Hampshire’s seafarers.

Organised by the Southampton Master Mariners’ Club, the Shipping Festival Service recognises seamen from past and present.

It will be held tonight in Winchester Cathedral, at 7.30pm, with the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire and the Mayors of Winchester and Southampton, plus other dignitaries, expected.

A colour party drawn from HMS King Alfred, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, HM Coastguard, Warsash Maritime Academy and the Royal Logistic Corps will carry the white, red and blue ensigns, with the Army ensign worn by Her Majesty’s Army vessels.

The branch standard bearers of the Royal Naval Association, the Royal Marines Association and the Merchant Navy Association will carry their standards.

Cadets from the Southampton, Winchester and Portsmouth units of the Sea Cadets Corps will carry the flags of the Mission to Seafarers, the Apostleship of the Sea and the Sailors’ Society. They will also carry the flags of shipping companies and organisations associated with Southampton.

The Southampton Albion Band will also take part in the service, which has been held every year since 1930, apart from a break during the Second World War.

Proceeds from a collection during the service will be divided equally between Winchester Cathedral and the Southampton Seafarers’ Centre.