THE man who sculpted the Cardiff memorial to merchant seamen has spoken of his sadness to learn the artwork he created more than 25 years ago was desecrated last weekend.

Beer cans and broken bottles were strewn around the memorial over Easter during one of a number of illegalgatherings held outside the Senedd. There were also reports of drunk young people urinating on the sculpture. A security fence was erected around the monument after the worst excesses on Friday night, and extra police powers enacted to crack down on anti-social behaviour in the area.

The sculptor - Brian Fell, whose own father had been a merchant seaman, was commissioned to create the work in 1994. The memorial - a sleeping face fused with a ship’s hull, was made by riveting plates of metal together - a technique used in early iron and steel ship building.

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The memorial came about through the tireless efforts of the late Bill Henke MBE, founder of The Merchant Navy Association Wales, who spent years raising funds for the monument's construction. 

None of the revellers on Friday evening are likely to have been aware of the sculpture's meaning and the profound history it commemorates.

The Merchant Navy comprised Britain's cargo and fishing fleet during the two world wars, keeping the nation supplied and fed in the face of relentless attacks by German U-boats .During the First World War, more than 3,000 British merchant and fishing vesselswere sunk and around 15,000 merchant seamen died.

In the Second World War the loss was even greater; 4,700 British-flagged ships were sunk and more than 29,000 merchant seamen died.

During that conflict, the Merchant Navy undertook perilous convoy missions to the Arctic, resupplying Britain's Soviet allies while running the gauntlet of German attacks by air and sea.

The allies were dependent on merchant vessels to transport troops, food, ammunition, raw materials and equipment throughout WWII.

The sculptor told The National he chose the design – a person's face blending into a ship's hull – to symbolise the deep connections generations of Welsh seamen had to the sea, and the vessels on which they served.

Each May, the Merchant Navy Association of Wales holds a multi-faith remembrance service to mark the anniversary of the memorial's dedication.

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Mr Fell said last week's incident was  particularly disappointing for him, who said he "felt sad for the families of the seamen [memorialised there]".

"They've really taken to it," he added. "It was very thoughtless of people to treat it that way."

Mr Fell praised the actions of one "generous and honorable" Cardiffian, 25 year-old Bradley Jones, himself a tugboat mate, who on seeing the mess that had been made, visited the site within hours to clean it down.

Mr Jones, whose father and uncles were in the Merchant Navy, told the BBC his act was an emotional response:

 "I can only describe it as an internal rage, because that memorial is not only a memorial for people we have lost, but it's also a memorial for people who don't have a grave or who were lost at sea," he said.

"It is a place where their family go to and remember them.

"I went down there because I just wouldn't be able to go home to sleep, knowing that."