Andrew’s March 2021 blog

9th April 2021
If we thought the arrival of vaccines was going to change the situation overnight, we clearly now know better!

Even in the UK where we have had a very strong vaccine rollout, we are being warned that restrictions are likely to go on for some time, both domestically and certainly in terms of international travel.  For my family, as for so many, this has become very personal.  One of our daughters works in Barcelona, Spain, as a teacher.  She has had some significant medical treatment, including surgery, in the last few weeks.  We have been desperate to see her and give her a hug, but under current very strict regulations we simply cannot get to her.  That situation looks unlikely to change very soon – indeed, now it seems that rules around access and quarantine could tighten further as a new wave of virus sweeps across Europe.  Once again, that painful sense of being cut off from family and friends, of losing control over your own destiny, is giving us all deep insights into what life is like for so many seafarers.

Vaccination is becoming a big issue for seafarers.  As things stand, many will struggle to obtain the vaccine.  The threat of “no jabs, no jobs” is causing significant alarm for those who might not be able to get one (or two!).  Some have suggested that it may take until 2024 to fully roll out the vaccine programme – and certainly, there are going to be severe limitations for those who get them in 2021.  Not only could vaccine rollout hinder access to work, and discriminate against some, but it will also further limit shore leave.  There are questions around whether some countries will not only deny shore leave to those who have not been vaccinated but may even limit it to those who have received specific types.  And then there is the fear of virus variants, which is certainly affecting policy in the UK because of fears of forms of COVID against which vaccines may be less effective.  Getting accurate information about vaccines to seafarers is vital – quite apart from ensuring they get access to their jabs.  This is a huge question for the industry, and for crew on board ship or waiting to join their ship.  We will help where we can.  All this with the crew change crisis, while much improved, still unresolved and with many countries still failing to give seafarers essential worker status.

So, in short, huge challenges remain.  Crew crisis still ongoing (perhaps 150,000 still working beyond contract end).  Essential worker status blocked in many places.  Cruise ships still inactive.  Shore leave still severely limited.  And now vaccine rollout severely challenging and potentially devastating in impact.  These remain difficult days for the crew we serve, and for the industry who we are proud to work alongside.  All this, and then there are the families back home …

Our work continues, as it has throughout the pandemic.  Gangway visitation, personal shopping delivery (I have just spoken to one chaplain who has just delivered 25 pairs of shoes to one ship!), digital support, and Family Support Network intervention.  In some places, we have also seen a rise in justice and welfare cases, including abandonment.  Our team in the UAE has done brilliant work in relation to the MT Iba (as they do with so many vessels and crews).  This case, however, has received worldwide attention, given that the ship landed up on a public beach after breaking its anchors in a storm.  Suddenly the invisible was made very visible.  Some of our new project development is also at an exciting stage, including the WeCare educational programmes which have now been launched as e-versions and are being taken up as a training resource by shipping companies.  These last number of months really have been breathtaking in terms of activity and speed of development.

We remain so, so grateful to our army of supporters.  You have been so generous at this extraordinary time, as we seek to meet acute need, with unexpected costs, in these unprecedented circumstances.  I am particularly conscious of many MtS stations around the world who rely on local income, particularly Centres, which has simply dried up.  These are strongly on our radar.  They are just one example of current serious need as they seek to keep the lights on, survive through to re-opening and sustain their support to the crew in different and creative ways.

In the Bible’s Book of Acts (chapter 5), we read of Peter’s early ministry.  We are told it was a time of signs and wonders.  It is said that the sick were carried out into the streets in the hope that Peter’s “shadow might fall on them”.  Similarly, they had brought the needy out onto the roads when Jesus passed by.  It is a nice, hopeful image.  We trust that in all our encounters with crew and their families, whatever form those encounters take, we may cast something of that same transformational and life-giving shadow on the heroic men and women who crew our ships, and on their families.


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