Port News: The Mission in Walvis Bay, Namibia and Seattle, USA

28th March 2023
Gail Wearne, Centre Manager at Walvis Bay, Namibia, and Emily Dudek, Ship Visitor in Seattle, USA, shared insights on the activities of seafarers in their respective regions during January 2023

At The Mission to Seafarers (MtS), we have a unique understanding of the challenges faced by seafarers and their families in part due to the insights gained through our Seafarers Happiness Index (SHI). For example, the results from the fourth quarter of 2022 revealed average seafarer happiness levels rose across almost all categories. However, unsurprisingly the perennial challenges associated with connectivity resulted in this being the only area in which there was a decline in satisfaction. Unable to contact their family or loved ones, seafarers often experience feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as added stress and worry for their families at home.

We work to support and assist seafarers and their families throughout the year, but still face many challenges. Our January reports from both Walvis Bay and Seattle highlight the importance of connectivity and the work we aim to do to improve seafarer happiness across the board.

Walvis Bay, Namibia – January 2023
Gail Wearne, Centre Manager at Walvis Bay, shared her concerns for the region, where seafarers, who are predominantly still Russian and Ukrainian, closely followed by Filipinos, are facing connectivity issues. This is largely because new registration laws are preventing seafarers from buying SIM cards without going through a rigorous registration process requiring ID and proof of address and involves hours of queuing and can only be done before 5pm.

Consequently, the MtS centre in Walvis Bay has seen a decline in sales for SIM card top-ups as well as an increase in the number of disappointed and frustrated seafarers. Issues such as these have the potential to impact seafarer welfare greatly, as individuals are unable to connect with loved ones at home.

Separate to the issue of SIM cards, Gail Wearne reported on how the MtS team in Walvis Bay is continuing its support for the crews of two vessels in ‘protective custody’ in Henties Bay. The team sent supplies such as food and Revd. Cedric Rautenbach, Regional Director in Africa for The Mission to Seafarers, is looking to raise additional funds to provide further support.

Gail informed the MtS that the crew are being well looked after physically, but their mental health is declining. Naturally, these seafarers wish to return home and are increasingly concerned about their salaries.

We hope through our efforts, we will be able to bring a little light and hope to seafarers. However, we also hope that overtime issues such as connectivity, which mean a huge deal to crew members in foreign ports, are solved.

Seattle, USA – January 2023
Emily Dudek, ship visitor in Seattle, shared updates that stand in stark contrast to the situation in Walvis Bay. In Seattle, The Mission to Seafarers saw an increase in sales for T-Mobile SIM cards that can be used in Mexico and Canada since these are frequent stops for ships once they leave the Port of Seattle. As such, these SIM cards are extremely useful in helping crews connect with their family and friends back home.

In an effort to reach more seafarers, Emily describes how the centre made new business cards and a sticker to give to visiting seafarers to put up in their ship’s mess with the Seattle centre’s WhatsApp number and website so that subsequent crews on the ship will be able to reach out, allowing the MtS team to provide better services for them in Seattle.

Other efforts to support the welfare of crew included another large donation of sweatshirts from Rush Apparel, a screen-printing company. These were delivered to, and welcomed by visiting seafarers, many of which hail from warmer climates and are not used to the colder temperatures of Seattle.

In addition to sweatshirts, board games kindly donated by local churches and groups were distributed to seafarers by the MtS team in Seattle, who have also enjoyed playing connect four with crew. The team hopes to continue this gift to encourage crews to have fun and improve social cohesion on board, an important factor in seafarer satisfaction and an area seen as lacking in the latest SHI.

At Seattle University’s monthly “Soup and Substance” event, ship visitor Emily Dudek, alongside Seattle’s Interim Executive Director, Deacon Joey De Leon, and Interim Director, Julia Cooper, delivered a presentation on labour justice issues in seafaring. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the three of them taught attending university students about who seafarers are, the issues they face, and the role of The Mission to Seafarers in helping crew while in the Port of Seattle.

Following this presentation, a group of four students and two campus staff joined Emily, Joey, and Julia on two ship visits to see first-hand what the MtS does. Emily reported that the seafarers they met were excited to tell the students about their lives and line of work. The Mission to Seafarers looks forward to a continuing partnership with Seattle University, with the hope of introducing more people to the ship visiting work performed by the team at Seattle Seafarers Center.

The experiences of our colleagues in Namibia and in Seattle highlight the diversity of challenges faced by our seafarer centres and ship visitors. What’s more, no two days are ever the same at any of the many locations where our teams offer support, and we are constantly amazed at their commitment and creativity in finding the right solutions to meet the welfare needs of visiting seafarers.

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