With this week being Seafarers Awareness Week and Sea Sunday following closely on its heels, we have a particular opportunity to fly the flag for seafarers and their families. We will be doing just that, joining so many others in applauding these heroic men and women who have faced such acute additional difficulties in recent weeks.
The shipping industry has worked really, really hard, and creatively, in lobbying assiduously for seafarers over these past weeks and months. The particular focus has been on the facilitation of those transit arrangements which have been dramatically impacted by COVID-related immigration restrictions and by a lack of flight availability. Many, many seafarers are now working well beyond their contract end, with all the accompanying stress and uncertainty, for them and for their families! Similar numbers have been unable to join ships, leading to financial difficulty. In one of countless Biblical injunctions to justice, the prophet Amos reports God’s cry “let justice roll down like mountains.” How seafarers need that now!
We have been very happy to play our part in a big advocacy partnership around this issue and we are glad to report signs of improvement and progress. However, there is a way to travel yet, and resolution requires the active support of governments all around the world. We plead with them to provide that. In addition to this issue, very large numbers of cruise vessel crew have lost their jobs as the cruise market has collapsed and ships are being laid up. In ports, there are continuing concerns about cancellation of shore leave and much reduced access to local and welfare facilities. Against this stark and complex background, we will be using Sea Sunday and Seafarers Awareness Week to celebrate the heroism of these remarkable men and women, who continue to keep vital world trade on the move despite everything. In fact, we have never received as many media enquiries as we are at the moment and I salute all involved in our “Comms” operations who have been working successfully under very considerable pressure. We, and much more importantly seafarers, are getting far more media time than is usual and surely many people are becoming less “sea blind”. Long may it last.
That refreshed awareness has also been a big help to our recently launched Flying Angel Campaign. This is focused on providing funding to support the global Mission in reopening its work safely, with effective PPE for example, on supporting digital chaplaincy, in the provision of MiFi units and on other factors related to helping us respond to the emerging and emergency COVID situation. After a month, I am delighted to report that we are at nearly 80 per cent of our demanding target of £600,000. Amazing!
I am pleased to report progress in our own work as well. Gradually, very gradually, things are beginning to open up in ports, and I know I share with you all the desire that we open up as much as we can, as quickly as we can, in as many places as we can. In doing so, we need to be informed by the safe working guidelines drawn up by MtS and now adopted by ICMA. I am also pleased with some progress on getting our teams recognised as essential workers. Most recently, the government of Argentina has done so, enabling our chaplain in Buenos Aires to return to work. “Chat to a Chaplain” has now received close on 600 calls and has played a key role through all this, as it will into the future.
Again, I underline the pride we should all rightly feel in the way in which we have responded together to an unprecedented situation, one which has created such need for seafarers and their families. We are emerging now into a somewhat changed world, one that may be quite different for quite some time. We will all need to pray and reflect to consider how we best take our ministry forward into that world.