Meet Our Chaplain in Rotterdam

19th September 2023
Dennis Woodward has been the Port Chaplain in Rotterdam since autumn 2017. He shares his thoughts on the challenges and joys of serving seafarers.

What are the challenges facing seafarers in Rotterdam?

The big challenge for seafarers calling on this port is shore leave. The port of Rotterdam never had any restrictions on shore leave, even in the pandemic. It was the shipping companies which actually went against their basic human rights. I understand why they did it, but the Maritime Labour Convention is very clear that they can’t restrict it.

However, the port of Rotterdam spans 43 km in length and covers 120 km². In more remote areas, seafarers often find it difficult to get any chance of shore leave, even when there are two port centres. We need to make it as easy as possible to offer transport at times when they need it.

What support do seafarers ask for?

Seafarers seek the opportunity to be heard, to be prayed for, and to share their struggles and challenges. I’ve been on the receiving end of seafarers sharing the loss of a child, sharing not being present at the birth of a child – all kinds of things where it’s humbling. That’s the rawness of life. Once, there was an Indian seafarer who had suffered severe burns from steam in the engine room. He was immediately put on a diet of potatoes and meat that was not what he was used to! So, I managed to arrange for him, twice a day, to get a local Indian takeaway in the hospital. He was so grateful.

What are your fondest memories as a chaplain?

In June 2020, when the price of crude oil went negative, 130/150 tankers were at anchorage in front of the Belgium/Dutch coast. It was the height of the pandemic and we were consuming so much less. Some ships had been there a couple of months.

I managed to get a charter out to some of these ships for free. It really did feel like we were bringing hope, joy and a sense of acceptance to people who felt that a lot of the world had forgotten about them. There was one seafarer living with HIV who was down to his last few strips but certainly didn’t have enough for six months’ supply. It was a lot of admin and money, but we took him the medication.

What keeps you motivated?

I’ve come to love and appreciate the 1.9 million men and women doing this. I’m very aware my life would look radically different without shipping. The life we’ve become accustomed to in the West – they make it happen. Part of me feels indebted to them. The least I can do is be a listening ear and a source of encouragement.


Sign up to our Newsletter
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.