My first blog piece of 2021. I once spent New Year’s Eve in Italy. There I shared in an interesting experience. Traditionally, many Italians have celebrated New Year’s Eve by throwing old pots, pans, clothes, appliances and even furniture out of the window. It is meant to symbolize “letting go” of past unhappiness to prepare yourself for the future. I suspect many of us would have happily thrown away some of the stuff associated with 2020!
Sadly, in many parts of the world, 2021 has begun much as 2020 ended. Here in the UK, the period since Christmas has been one of rapidly growing COVID-19 cases, bulging hospitals, new fast-spreading virus variants and reimposed restrictions. Very sadly, the statistics for those dying have been the highest so far. Within our teams, their families and amongst our supporters there has been illness. Tragically, some have died. Others are still suffering from the debilitating effects of what is being called Long COVID. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all.
There is cause for hope. Vaccines have arrived and in some countries, the rollout is significantly advanced. Many, however, face a very long wait for those vaccines, including seafarers. And it seems we face a battle to keep vaccines developing fast enough to outwit all the new variants. We had hoped for a new dawn in 2021. We hope and pray for that still, but it is some way off. For seafarers too there remain many of the challenges of last year. All the signs are that the numbers of crew affected by the crew change crisis are now significantly diminished. Some suggest there are perhaps around 150,000 now working beyond their contract ends. Many, many across the shipping industry and beyond are to be thanked for their enormous efforts to bring about change. We still await a final resolution and hope that the recent UN declaration will propel further transformative action at government level. For now, many of the huge additional stresses of last year remain, including severe limitations on shore leave.
I can say that The Mission to Seafarers is one of many signatories to the newly released Neptune Declaration. This Declaration is designed to promote four key goals:
- Recognize seafarers as key workers and treat them accordingly by giving them early access to COVID-19 vaccinations.
- Implement high-quality health protocols.
- Increase collaboration between ship operators and charterers to facilitate crew changes.
- Ensure airline connectivity between key maritime hubs.
This summarises very well some of the absolute priorities for 2021 in terms of seafarer well-being. In the meantime, our work continues. It continues against a background of extended regulation and limitation of our normal services. I have today, however, had an initial glimpse at our global statistics for 2020. Given the acutely difficult circumstances, it is incredible just how much has been achieved, not least in terms of continued ship visitation, albeit for most of the year safely “distanced” and at the gangway. That continuity of service, wherever that has been possible, is something of which we can justly be proud. Along with our newly created digital support services and our Family Networks, our sustained ministry in ports will provide the armoury with which we will do our very best to do our bit for seafarers and their families in 2021.
We may not quite yet be able to “let go” of the pandemic but we remain optimistic that that day will come. In the meantime, we will do our very best to be bringers of transformational hope in every way possible.