Andrew’s July blog

27th July 2022
Last Tuesday, I spent the day in London. I had several meetings and went from place to place by bicycle. At 40.1 degrees in the capital, it was the hottest day in the UK since records began – by some margin.

It was like cycling through a very hot fan oven and an acute reminder of some of the perils we all face. Climate change. The devastating war in Ukraine with the potential to spread. A pandemic continuing to impact severely on many parts of the world. Rampant inflation adding to economic woes. Energy supplies threatened. Even a significantly increased threat of hunger in many places. I have always been sceptical of “the end of the world is nigh” school of thought. However, in this summer of 2022 it is easy to feel the breath of the horsemen of the apocalypse on the back of your neck. It seems extraordinary that disruption follows disruption in an unrelenting and deeply disconcerting way.

Numbers of our Mission to Seafarers teams are feeling all this very acutely. Last week, I spoke to our Chaplain in Sri Lanka who had just finished 54 hours in a queue for fuel – yes 54! Our team in Panama has had to temporarily suspend ship visitation because of unrest on the streets. Others too tell of local difficulty. As ever, however, it is seafarers themselves who are often at the front line in experiencing the impacts of these things, sometimes brutally so. The pandemic and the Ukraine conflict are acute examples of this. And all on top of the normal challenges that go with seafaring, challenges with which you, our readers, are so familiar. We continue to look hard at how we adjust our work to meet the challenges of these dramatic times.

I am pleased to be part of the review group looking at how the maritime industry and maritime charities working together can best support Ukrainian seafarers and their families as the conflict moves into what appears to be a relatively long-term phase. Requests for emergency help continue to come in – but there are limited resources to meet the scale of requests at present. Where is our focus best placed as we work together in support of those in need? We hope to have some recommendations within a month or so. I am very pleased at the way in which our MtS teams across the world and in London continue to support Ukrainian and Russian seafarers with pastoral and practical intervention, including with free communication. I am also delighted that we have been able to offer direct support to seafaring families in Ukraine, through our partnership with MORTRANS, the welfare arm of the Ukrainian seafarers’ union. The stories coming back to us are deeply moving.

We have been present in the port of Aqaba, Jordan for many years. This proved to be especially important last month when disaster struck as a result of a faulty crane dropping a canister of chlorine. It was a reminder of the sudden perils that can so easily overtake seafarers, and indeed port workers.  The awful yellow cloud that swept over everyone and everything nearby killed 14, including five Vietnamese seafarers and several port workers. Over 200 were injured, including 17 seafarers, Chinese and Vietnamese. Our local manager and ship visitor was immediately on the case. He was tirelessly present in the hospital and beyond, supporting crew in numerous different ways, liaising with authorities, agents, and doctors, providing pastoral care, and offering communications support. I was deeply moved to receive a note of thanks from one crew member, far from home and away from all his natural support networks.

Finally, on the second Sunday in July we celebrated Sea Sunday. It was great to see significantly increased participation this year. It is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate seafarers and their families and to reflect on the challenges they face, especially in these disrupted times. A report came back to me from the preacher in one church:

“The most pertinent observation in discussion after the Church Service was: “We really ought to have heard more about this on the News and read about it in the Press!”  I can only fully agree that sentiment and add: “We still must!” 

While I am glad that seafarers have had an increased and welcome visibility throughout COVID-19, it remains a work in progress. We will continue to work to ensure their incredible story is told as widely and frequently as possible. I hope Sea Sunday has played some part in that.

In closing, I say again we owe our endless thanks to our vast army of supporters. It is your generosity and encouragement that have kept us going through another month of activity and response in an ever more disrupted environment. Our work is your work.

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