I used to have a friend who was in the habit of putting his hand on your shoulder, looking you in the eye and asking, “Are you happy?” To be honest, it could sometimes get slightly annoying. However, there are few better questions.
We cannot always be happy. Life is simply not like that. Surely, though, it is a proper universal aspiration that we find as much happiness in life as we can. As a summary of our purpose at The Mission to Seafarers, it is not a bad one. For 165 years, with your help, we have been trying to do our bit to make seafarers and their families happy!
When I outline the breadth and variety of what we do at the Mission, even people who know us quite well are often surprised. In addition to our global port work, we run a whole variety of projects. One of these is our Seafarers Happiness Index. This gives seafarers around the world the chance to say how they feel about life at sea. Like my old friend, it puts a metaphorical hand on the shoulder and asks how happy crew are feeling. Ten key questions ask about all aspects of life on ship, from food and wages to shore leave and contact with family. It is easy to fill in but gives the opportunity for crew to comment in detail if they wish. The survey is done every quarter and then we publish it to help the industry know what is working and what needs to be changed. Amongst many recent comments, one was very simple, “without us, so many countries would struggle for food and fuel, how aren’t we seen as key (workers)”. Another wrote: “We work more than we ought to. We work 14 to 15 hours every day. And they force us to sign a monthly working slip which complies with working hours.” Our Seafarers Happiness Index helps bring visibility to seafarers and helps us all hear their voice. What could be more important?
How are your happiness levels? I trust you are feeling a great deal more hopeful and positive as so many begin to emerge from the pandemic, fully vaccinated and facing the future with greater confidence. However, this is not the case in many parts of the world. For many seafarers and their families, in India for example, where our emergency feeding programme has become even more important, the situation remains grim. Fears of virus variants continue to cause many countries to sustain or reintroduce strict protocols. These continue to compromise the crew change issue, prolonging stressful uncertainty for many. Shore leave continues to be very limited. All this is reflected in the happiness levels we find amongst seafarers. In response, our pandemic ministry remains focused on ship visitation at the gangway, on personal shopping delivery, on emergency response and on digital intervention. These have been hugely transformative during these last months, although we remain determined to get our full range of services up and running as quickly as we can, wherever that is possible.
Recently, one fantastic development has been the gradual roll-out of the vaccine to seafarers. It has a very long way to go but it is perhaps the single thing that will make the most difference to their futures. Two weeks ago, I went on my first ship visit since the start of the pandemic. The seafarers on board had recently been vaccinated through a Seafarer Centre in the USA. The difference that had made to their happiness levels was very, very obvious in our distanced conversations. Local welfare teams are working hard, wherever supplies are available, to support seafarers and their families in accessing those vaccines. To this end, advice and guidance is being given, and our Centres and our transport are being utilised. This has happened in the USA, in Canada, in the United Kingdom, in India – and work is ongoing to make it happen elsewhere. Indeed, as I started to write, the following pinged into my Inbox:
I’d like to place on record our sincere thanks to the team at Hull who have pulled out the stops twice now to assist two of our vessels. Both crews have now had access to vaccines; they and we are most grateful. Please pass on my thanks to Chaplain Jake and the team there.
I want to thank you again for the amazing support and generosity which has been shown to us through this pandemic. You have helped us meet many additional challenges – and we could not have done it without you. Thanks for everything – and for playing your part in helping us in raising happiness levels with heroic seafarers and their families.
With Best Wishes,
The Revd Canon Andrew Wright
Secretary General, The Mission to Seafarers
Watch our video on the Seafarers Happiness Index by Verity Relph, our Project Support Officer below.