Andrew’s February Blog

1st March 2022
Wednesday 16 February was an exciting day. HRH, The Princess Royal made a visit to Southampton.

She spent the day with us at The Mission to Seafarers, combining that with visits to port authorities and operators. For me, what was most exciting was the fact that she did a ship visit. This is something I had been hoping for over a number of months. This was an opportunity for our President, and someone so well known globally, to visit with just one crew and one ship. However, in doing that there was a much wider symbolism. This was one way of recognising and expressing our collective gratitude for the heroics of crews all over the world during these last two years, against a background of acute difficulty and stress.

The crew of 22 only learnt of her visit just 36 hours beforehand (and I guess this must have added to their workload considerably as they prepared for her arrival), but they were clearly all thrilled and gave her a wonderful welcome. The Princess was conducted around the ship, a car carrier, by our excellent Chaplain in Southampton, The Revd John Attenborough. John brings huge experience of the Mission, having previously served in Mombasa, Antwerp, Tilbury, and Medway. The Princess did an extensive visit of the ship, meeting and engaging with all the crew in a number of spaces, including the mess, and listening to their stories. All this took place while normal life went on, with cargo being loaded and unloaded at speed. By all accounts, it went extremely well and the visit carried a very clear message of recognition and gratitude – and will further help with the task of making and keeping seafarers visible. The Captain spoke to me beforehand of seafarers being the “forgotten army”, a fact which we all know too well and which we do so hope the pandemic will have done something to change for the long term.

This was a truly wonderful occasion, something none of this crew will ever forget – and one had only joined just that day. I guess some great stories and pictures will have been sent back home. A few hours later, they were on their way to Halifax, Canada as their next port of call. Beyond that crew, however, I hope this visit will resonate more widely. Yes, at the highest levels, the extraordinary work of seafarers, particularly over these last two years, is recognised and valued.

Beyond the ship visit, HRH spent time meeting our extensive MtS team in Southampton.  In addition to chaplaincy, there are so many volunteers – ship visiting, driving, fundraising, and serving on the committee.  Again, a point was made in the speeches that in thanking them and recognising them, as with seafarers, symbolic thanks went to our global teams everywhere. All have been doing such incredible work throughout COVID.  In some real sense, that great company of those who work and volunteer with MtS were included and valued in this one symbolic event.

Finally, the event had many partnership elements, including with port authorities and with our ecumenical partners, of whom representatives were present.  It was a reminder that without such partnerships our work cannot go forward.  This too is something of enormous value, never more so than in these pandemic times.

So, an exciting day and one rich in symbolism after two years of the most extraordinary service by those at sea and by Mission teams around the world.  Our profound thanks to HRH, the Princess Royal for making this possible.


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