In the last few months, I have been keeping you informed of the challenges facing seafarers during these difficult times and the efforts we are making to bring about change. Your support to our cry for help has been immense and I cannot thank you enough for your generosity and words of encouragement. As a result, we have been able to do so much more.
The global COVID-19 crisis has affected many thousands of men and women working at sea, but there are also those ashore who have been faced with their own set of challenges. The Mission to Seafarers is often where they turn for help!
One of those impacted was Ashwatth, a Chief Officer who had come to the UK to undertake his Master Mariner examinations at Blackpool and the Fylde College. Finding himself and his family stranded with very little money as a result of the escalating COVID-19, he turned to the Mission. Arriving with his wife and 2-year-old son on the 2nd March, he had only expected to be in the country for a short period of time and was not at all prepared for an extended stay. Although aware of the escalating COVID-19 crisis, Ashwatth’s focus was initially on his exams which were due to take place in April. As he recalls, “I started studying hard. I woke up early in the morning and kept studying 12 to 16 hours a day.”
Those few weeks, however, saw the spread of the pandemic rise at an alarming pace and it was not long before the idea of being stranded in the UK became a very real prospect: “Suddenly on 18th March, the Government of India decided to shut down all airports in India. I was still focused on my exams on 1st April. On 23rd March, the Government of the UK decided to close all universities. My exams got cancelled. I was worried a little bit, but I thought it will be for a short duration. The situation became worse when our return flights on 9th April were cancelled and the airline company didn’t refund our ticket fare. We had to pay our landlord and manage for groceries. Our money was running out. In a foreign country with a wife and a small child with little money was very stressful for us as a family.”
Ashwatth was eventually referred to The Mission to Seafarers who had already assisted a number of stranded students. The Mission helped the students with their basic living costs by covering their rental payments and providing them with supermarket vouchers. For some, like Ashwatth, who were here with dependents, financial help was particularly vital: “The Mission to Seafarers came up like a flying angel for help.” “As soon as we registered with MtS, they helped us to pay our rent and grocery costs.”
The Indian High Commission began to arrange evacuation flights for the stranded Indian nationals, but the high cost of the flights combined with the family’s already strained finances, left them in further difficulty. It was then that Ashwatth decided to turn again to the Mission for help: “I requested MtS to help me get evacuated and I was surprised with the quick response. I got a call from the Indian Embassy and they agreed to repatriate me on the 23rd of April. I was struggling to pay my return fares as the evacuation flights were 2.5 times the normal ticket price.” The Mission paid for the family’s flights home to India and after two weeks in quarantine, they were back in their home province of Madhya Pradesh.
Ashwatth and his family are very grateful for the support he received from the Mission during this challenging time: “I would like to thank you for the invaluable support you provided to me during this pandemic. It was more an emotional support that helped me survive this crisis. I was always called and asked if everything is OK. MtS is really flying angel for seafarers. There are many people who got stuck due to COVID-19, I was one of them and it would not be possible for me to return my home so easily without help of The Mission to Seafarers.”
On behalf of seafarers like Ashwatth, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks – your gift helps to provide security, stability and hope in a world that is often characterised by uncertainty.