The Royal Navy has a long tradition of referring to its ships as ‘she’ and will continue to do so, a spokesperson saidCredit:Steve parsons / PA “However, I don’t think there is anything wrong with calling ships ‘she’ in conversation. It’s a respectable maritime tradition.” But a spokesperson for the trade body, the British Marine Industries Federation, said their organisation would stand firm. “Our owners have always referred to them as ‘she’ and will continue to do so because, to many, they are part of the family,” they said.The exact reason why ships are referred to as “she” has been debated for many years. In 2014, Dr Pieter van der Merwe, a naval historian at the national maritime museum in Greenwich, was asked that very question.“Old sailors used to answer this with a sexist joke: “Like a woman, a ship is unpredictable,” he replied, in an article for The Guardian. “A more likely suggestion relates to the idea of goddesses and mother figures playing a protective role in looking after a ship and crew,” he added, noting that Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic in a ship called La Santa Maria, named after the Virgin Mary.Yesterday, Richard Meade, the current editor of Lloyd’s List, said: “Perhaps making them feminine was understandable in the day of wooden sailing ships that arguably had a personality, but I challenge anyone to look at a modern 400 meter-long containership and identify a gender. It was The Queen who said: “May God bless her and all who sail in her,” as she commissioned Britain’s latest warship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, in 2014.But now the tradition of referring to boats as “she” or “her” is under threat after centuries of naval history.On Tuesday it emerged that a British maritime museum has begun referring to ships it exhibits as “it” in a bid to appear more gender neutral.The decision taken by the Scottish Maritime Museum near Troon was sparked by vandals. Twice in four months, references to boats as “she” have been scratched out of information signs, forcing the charity’s director to scrap the gender-specific term altogether.A 19th century steam yacht called ‘Rifle’, which once carried Queen Victoria across Loch Arkaig while she was visiting Inverlochy castle in 1873, had its display signs defaced last week in the latest attack. Rifle, a private steamer once carried Queen Victoria across Loch Arkaig while she was visiting Inverlochy castle in 1873Credit:Collect Lloyd’s List, a weekly shipping publication which ran in print for more than 250 years, has already abandoned centuries of seafaring tradition by calling all vessels “it”.Julian Bray, the former editor, wrote: “The shipping industry does need to move forward if it is not to risk becoming a backwater of international business.”They are maritime real estate. The world moves on. I can see why ‘she’ would suit a magnificent cruise liner but to a rusting old hulk it could be rather offensive. “We are moving in line with other maritime institutions,” said Mr Mann, who reported the incident to the police.“The debate around gender and ships is wide ranging, pitting tradition against the modern world. But I think that we have to move with the times and understand the way people look at things today.”On social media, supporters of the museum expressed their dismay. “This isn’t how it works. You don’t get to erase history, and like it or not ships have always been referred to as she,” said Jennifer Sorbara.”Political correctness is getting out of hand, the few are trying to bully the majority,” said Harry Silvers. “There is room in this world for everyone.” A passage which read: “Although she is in a very fragile condition, her propeller is a well preserved example of an early design and she continues to fascinate viewers,” had all the gendered terms scratched out.The museum’s director David Mann has now vowed to update all signage around the building with gender neutral terms, using “it’ instead. This sign inside the Scottish Maritime museum, Irvine was defaced to have its gendered terms removedCredit:Facebook “This seems like an odd debate to be having in 2019.”The Scottish Maritime Museum holds an important internationally recognised collection, encompassing a variety of historic vessels, artefacts, personal items and the largest collection of shipbuilding tools and machinery in Scotland. It is home to the MV Spartan, Scotland’s last Scottish-built puffer, the harbour tug Garnock, and SY Carola, a steam yacht built in 1898. A Royal Navy spokesman said: “The Royal Navy has a long tradition of referring to its ships as ‘she’ and will continue to do so.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.