Seventy years ago, on 31 January 1953, the MV Princess Victoria – a car ferry – left the East Pier in Stranraer, Scotland to make its normal crossing to Larne in Northern Ireland.
It was a stormy day and, once out of shelter, the ship encountered a severe storm which damaged the stern doors and allowed water ingress. Despite the valiant efforts of captain and crew over many hours, the ship finally sunk with the loss of 135 lives, passengers and crew. Forty-four were rescued and survived. It was a privilege for me to participate in a memorial service, held on a suitably breezy day, in Larne on the 70th anniversary. This included a number of relatives of those who had died.
It was a vivid reminder that the sea remains a fundamentally challenging environment.
Shipping disasters on that scale are, thankfully, now rare – although our teams still deal with tragedies at sea. Most recently, our chaplain in Izmir, Turkey responded following a fire and massive explosion aboard the General Cargo ship, Beata, in the Black Sea. The Captain was lost at sea. The others, mainly Egyptian, were rescued but one died of injuries received and nine men are being treated for serious burns.
Our Chaplain, The Revd James Buxton, went with his associate ship visitor, Kadir, to meet the crew in Samsun. They were able to bring gifts, vital pastoral intervention following trauma, and to offer initial support with questions about pay, compensation, and flights home. We contributed within a wider response, including that of the ITF.
Our Chaplain reported that, wonderfully, Egyptian students in the local university have formed a visiting rota in support of the men. Our Manager in Aqaba and our Chaplain in Egypt have also been involved, not least in relation to the families at home, with whom we have been able to share some immediate financial as well as pastoral help.
All this is in the very best traditions of the Mission. Over our 167 years, we have frequently been at the forefront in responding to tragedy and disaster at sea, in modern times as in older days. That is one reason why we prioritise effective training in mental health first aid and trauma first response.
Beyond that, however, we believe (as do many across the industry) that mental well-being and happiness play a major role in ship safety. Many accidents result in one form or another from human error – and tiredness, stress, and anxiety make that much more likely. As that Captain famously once said to me in that oft-repeated line about the Mission: “Happy seafarers make good seafarers, happy seafarers make safe seafarers. You make seafarers happy. Thank you.”
We remain absolutely committed to the very best in emergency welfare response. More than that, we remain absolutely committed to supporting seafarer well-being, not least as our contribution to the safest possible environment for crew. Like us all, we want seafarers to return home happy, fulfilled and uninjured.