I have just spent a day as an “intern”. I worked alongside Miranda Peters, both in her role at the Queen Victoria Seaman’s Rest in London, a wonderful home for retired seafarers and for others as well, and in her role as MtS Chaplaincy Assistant in the Port of Tilbury.
It was highly illuminating and thoroughly enjoyable. A few weeks ago, Miranda spent a day as Secretary General, working alongside me, attending meetings and sharing in some key discussions. I think they were good and fruitful experiences for us both. Like so many of our “interns”, she has brought fabulous energy to the role – and all sorts of excellent skills. She has clearly fitted in very well with the extensive ecumenical team and with some great MtS volunteers.
We had one particularly interesting ship visit where we were only metres from a near-miss accident. We did not see it ourselves, but we heard an enormous crash and when we turned we saw two seafarers sprawled on the ground. It appeared that something had gone wrong at the front of a fork lift truck, although precisely what was unclear. They were slow to get up and I wondered if I was going to have to try out some of the trauma first aid on which I had recently done a short course. In reality I have no confidence that I could have delivered anything effective – I leave that sort of thing to my nursing wife! This was an anxious moment. Thankfully they were quickly helped to their feet by colleagues and, beyond scrapes and bruises, it was clear that no serious damage had been done. We spent some time with them and they were clearly OK. They maintained a strong cheerfulness and our offers of help were politely declined. It was a powerful reminder, though, that despite high levels of safety consciousness, accidents can so easily happen – particularly in the on-board environment with all its steel, ladders, moving parts and diversity of cargo, some of it inherently dangerous. And all that before you add in the impact of wind and wave.
One of the most important things that The Mission to Seafarers does is to provide care and support for those who have suffered injury or illness at sea, especially those who find themselves in hospital in remote and foreign ports while their ship and crewmates sail on. The visits made by our teams, together with the practical help offered, sometimes just in the form of toiletries or clothing, are absolutely transformational. That incident we saw, slight though it was, also reminded me once again of the need for our teams at MtS to model high standards of care and safety in our own working. Looking back, there have been times in my own ship visiting when I have probably done things that were unwise. We do need to assess risk, wear the right gear, receive the proper training – and be prepared to turn back if we feel a line is at risk of being crossed. I remember one chaplain telling me of an incident where the gangway collapsed just before she was about to step on it! Of course, at the same time, in the service of seafarers, we will sometimes need to move a little outside our comfort zone – but always with a proper care.