COVID-19 and the impact on the seafarers who have for the most part remained onboard the ships and not visited the seafarer centres in major part due to companies, manning agents and Captains being protective and COVID nervous has reshaped how we respond to seafarers and the challenges they are facing.
During the pandemic and the ensuing health orders we have been unable to hold our annual gatherings. The majority of current volunteers have had to stay away and those who want to volunteer put on hold. Our relationship with St Michael’s Multicultural in Vancouver has been about keeping people informed and asking for prayers for the seafarers as we work to remain patient and look forward to hands-on, face-to-face ministry which we hope will resume soon.
As seafarers have had to remain onboard for the 4-10 months of their contract we have focused more on going to them with the question, “What do you need”?
Chaplains Gary Roosma, Deacon Dileep Athaide and myself greet the seafarers on the gangways and the decks of their ships and engage in dialogue. They share their feelings about the challenges onboard and they also share life stories of joy and sadness. The birth of a child, the death of a loved one, all of these experiences muted by the fact that they cannot be present. As a token of support and appreciation we give them a ‘ Care Package’ put together by us which include: chips, chocolate, popcorn, stickers, calendars, daily bread or equivalents, reading material (particularly about Canada) and information about the centres.
We are blessed that a former MtS intern, Vincent Ng is now working as a Chaplain with MtS in Port Moody. Thanks to Vincent’s presence we are actively supporting the seafarers there, expanding our reach. Vincent speaks Mandarin and Cantonese, and therefore able to provide important ministry to Chinese seafarers throughout the Port of Vancouver.
What seafarers lack, we try (or with our partners) to provide. For example, there are ships with no, poor or very expensive Wi-Fi and so with the support of the ‘Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’ (a stakeholder in the newly formed Vancouver Port Welfare Committee which advocates for the welfare of seafarers) they have at no cost to us or the seafarer provided 4 mini router, Wi-Fi units which are taken onboard and left for several hours or overnight. This allows seafarers to contact with their families and catch up on news back home. The seafarers express to us their appreciation and describe what it also means to their family.
Portable Wi-Fi Router
Our partnership with the ITF ‘International Transport Federation’ has enabled us to raise issues that we observe onboard or hear about from seafarers, such as being months over contract with no news of going home or requests to see a doctor denied. When the human element is forgotten that is when we work to protect the rights of the seafarers.
Those few seafarers who do make it to the centres are hungry to buy chocolate, chips and souvenirs, or just to touch the earth after 6 or 7 months.
The global effort throughout the pandemic to have seafarers recognized as essential workers continues without a lot of progress as it seems that headlines of containers lost at sea get more attention than the seafarers. This is one of many reasons that Friday June 25, the International Day of the Seafarer is so important. This is a day to give thanks for seafarers. We grill burgers and bring other small luxuries onboard. The events of the past year have made it even more important that we explore ways to raise up the seafarers, acknowledging the work they do to make our lives richer at personal cost.
I hope you can join me in that offering of thanks including in prayer.
The Reverend Peter Smyth on 'rounds'.