When the Covid-19 lockdown started at the end of March in New Zealand, the Lyttelton Seafarers’ Centre closed its doors like many other seafarers’ centres world-wide. “It looked like the shore based welfare link for seafarers was severed,” says the Rev John McLister, the Mission to Seafarers’ chaplain in the port of Lyttelton.
However, a number of developments in April have seen Mr McLister return to work and the Lyttelton Seafarers’ Centre reopen. Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) advised ports that seafarers entering NZ were considered essential workers; and if their ship had been 14 days or more coming to NZ and had no health issues, crews were allowed shore leave.
MNZ also informed ports that port chaplains were to be considered essential workers; and ports were to facilitate their access to vessels. MNZ also stressed the importance of ensuring seafarers had internet connectivity while in port.
“While the situation in some ports hasn’t changed much, even after MNZ advice, in Lyttelton, we’ve been up and running for a couple of weeks now,” says Mr McLister.
“I think this is due to the good relationship we have with the Lyttelton Port Company (LPC) and their appreciation of the plight of seafarers arriving in the port.”
A number of measures have been introduced in Lyttelton to meet seafarers’ welfare needs during the Covid-19 lockdown period:
• The port pilots give each ship a flyer with the Seafarers’ Centre information and the services that can be provided.
• The Mission to Seafarers’ chaplain visits ships – to the top of the gangway – and provides the crew with a portable wifi unit that up to 15 people can use.
• Personal shopping items can be purchased online at the local supermarket or thorough the chaplain who delivers purchases to the ship.
• Free SIM cards are provided for seafarers who request them.
• The Seafarers’ Centre is now open for crews eligible for shore leave.
“Lyttelton is the home port for three large factory trawlers and we also have one from the port of Nelson here for repairs,” says Mr McLister. “Each has a crew of about 80 guys, so that’s 320 Russian and Ukrainians in port at the moment. Normally, there are crew changes at the beginning of winter, but with the Covid-19 restrictions, the trawler crews are going nowhere. We’ve had over 200 visits from them to the Centre in the last
two weeks and we’re changing thousands of dollars for them, as there is no bank here.”
With the Seafarers’ Centre’s volunteers stood down until New Zealand’s Covid-19 restrictions drop to safe levels, Mr McLister has been very busy. “I’ve had to put in a few 12 hour days,” he says. I try to drop the wifi unit to the ship before 10 am and pick it up after dinner, so the crew can use it during breaks and meal times. If they want some shopping, I’ll do that in the late afternoon. In the evenings, I open the Seafarers’ Centre for the trawler crews, as that is when they come ashore after a day’s work. Without our volunteers who normally staff the Centre in the evenings, it has become a 10 am to 10 pm job, seven days a week.”
To alleviate Mr McLister’s workload and to help provide the standard of care crews need, the Lyttelton Seafarers’ Centre Charitable Trust has approved an increase in the work hours of the Centre’s part-time welfare worker Glen Estrada. “We have offered Glen 30 hours a week,” says the
Revd Tina Thorpe, treasurer of the Trust. “Previously Glen was funded through the Christchurch City Council’s Strengthening Communities Fund to open the Centre on the weekends. Now he can open the Centre on other nights of the week and between him and John we’ve got most bases covered.”
“I think this is a generous commitment by the Trust,” says Mr McLister. “It is a nonprofit, charitable organisation with limited funding sources, but without this commitment, dozens of seafarers would end up on the street corner outside the local library trying to connect to the free wifi. We had this situation a few years back and we don’t want to return to guys standing in the cold at night.”
In support of the work the Lyttelton Seafarers’ Centre is doing, the ITF Seafarers’ Trust has funded the purchase of an electric vehicle for the Centre to help reduce fuel costs, facilitate ship visits, do shopping for seafarers, and transport crew when needed. “We are extremely pleased,” says Mr McLister, “It has made our job so much easier.”