Andrew’s November Blog 2023

29th November 2023
I have said many times in recent months that seafarers often feel the world’s crises first and hardest.

Following on from the appalling impacts of the pandemic and, subsequently, the war in Ukraine on so many seafarers, we now see a renewed and tragic conflict in the Middle East. The unthinkably dreadful and terrifying events of 7 October in Israel have led to the subsequent actions, and terrible sufferings, in Gaza. These things threaten to spread throughout the Middle East and beyond.

We have already seen some small-scale attacks on vulnerable shipping. The Middle East is home to some of the busiest and most vital sea routes, especially those to and from Suez. Tension and anxiety for seafarers transiting this area will be rising. It will be potentially frightening for many, no doubt impacting on sleep patterns and stress levels. We stand ready to support. We have strong port coverage across much of this area, with teams in Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, the UAE, and Bahrain – and with plans to begin work in other nearby countries, including Yemen.

Seafarers will be especially glad of ship visits at this time, I would imagine. We also have our Family Support Networks and our mental health courses and resources. In addition, we will be looking at other relevant ways of offering support – and will be speaking with our partners. We will, of course, be praying for peace and a swift resolution of issues, but we will be ready for whatever comes the way of seafarers – and their equally important families.

The depth of the horror to which human beings can sink, and the cruelty of which they are capable, was brought fully home to me in a November visit to Auschwitz in Poland.  A tour of that terrible concentration camp where about 1.5 million people died, mainly Jews but others too, is a very dark but powerful experience. “It happened once, it can happen again”. So said Primo Levi, the Holocaust survivor who subsequently wrote so brilliantly in his determination to keep memories alive and prevent the dreadful things he experienced happening again. He was right. It has happened again. It will happen again.

While the scale of events may differ, attempts at ethnic cleansing and outbreaks of the most extreme human cruelty have continued to darken human history. Auschwitz is a reminder of how easily civilised, even seemingly “decent”, human beings can become cruel and savage, especially in response to propaganda and an evil populism. How dangerously tribal we can become.

I walked the streets of the parts of nearby Krakow where Jews were forced into the ghetto. Many died there and others were deported to the camps. But during that time the trams continued to run through the area. Initially, some tram-goers threw bread or other supplies out of the windows to help those who were starving. However, the authorities made offering such help punishable, even by death. I found myself wondering whether I would have had the courage in those circumstances to risk all (including my family) and help. As we are often reminded, all it takes for evil to flourish is for good men and women to remain silent.

At this point in our increasingly troubled and violent world, it is good to reflect on some of these things. That famous Jewish saying is one that often comes to my mind. “He who saves one life, saves the world entire.” We cannot solve all seafarer problems at The Mission to Seafarers. We can, however, do all we can to help all within our reach, physically and digitally. We seek to do so with the courage to speak up always for those who need help, support, and a voice.



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