India has been the focus of media reporting on the COVID situation in these last days. No surprise. Pictures from there have been horrific.
We have been in close touch with our local teams. While the situation does differ somewhat dependent on area, the reality is very much as painted in the media. It is indeed one of overflowing hospitals, shortages of oxygen, medicines and vaccines, and problems accessing medical intervention (and accessing non-state care is very expensive). Our teams report price rises in basic foodstuffs and a lack of availability of sufficiently good quality PPE. Then there are the issues of bereavement, funerals, and of families not being able to come together in the usual way to give support. There is clearly a great deal of fear. Those fears are echoed by Indian seafarers on contract. They are immensely worried about families back home. Some wish to end their contracts early to support their families. Others are seeking to extend their contracts, partly because they wish to sustain income to families at a time of instability. The need for accurate communication is also raised – with some families reportedly resorting to ill-suited herbal medicines, or indeed even more damaging alternative remedies. Along with other societies, we are looking closely at the best ways in which we can respond. In the meantime, we hold the situation in India in our thoughts and prayers.
However, while India has been the current global centre of attention, the situation remains grim elsewhere, including in the Philippines where fresh lockdowns have been imposed. All this continues to impact badly on the crew change issue, creating further restrictions in some places and prolonging anxieties and uncertainties for seafarers. It also, of course, continues the shore leave difficulties, with consequent impact for crew and for our own port-based operations.
I am very pleased, however, with one thing that has emerged from the current situation in India. In the UK, the Disasters Emergency Committee provides a model for partnership fundraising in times of emergency. The major charities come together under one banner to appeal together directly for the public to give to a common fund. It happens at times of international emergency or natural disaster. Such a joined-up approach to fundraising in crisis has been long overdue in maritime welfare. As a result of an initiative from the International Chamber of Shipping, subsequent work by The Seafarers’ Charity and The Mission to Seafarers, in discussion with wider maritime charities, this month has seen the launch of a new fund – the Seafarers International Relief Fund (SIRF). This will be hosted by The Seafarers’ Charity as an independent and international funder, but with the close support and involvement of the wider maritime welfare sector including The Mission to Seafarers. Anyone can give but its initial target will be shipping companies, many of whom have already expressed a desire to support. We will all be able to tap into this fund in support of our work at the front line. This fund will initially be focused on the India situation, but with the capacity to support COVID-related issues more widely as things develop. It is also a fund that can be reactivated whenever emergency strikes.
I fully support this and am proud that MtS has been involved in its creation. It will further enhance the partnerships which are so crucial in the effective support of seafarers. It will also further encourage donations from within shipping, again something of benefit to us all.