One of our volunteer ship visitors shares his experience.
For the past five weeks I have been shadowing one of the chaplains working in ports in the north of England, to understand the needs of seafarers when they go on shore leave and how these needs are met by welfare services and organisations working in the area.
This morning we set off early as a Filipino seafarer was brought to a hospital via a helicopter from a supply vessel stationed in the North Sea after experiencing breathing difficulties. We were to visit him.
Before going to the hospital, we nipped down a supermarket to buy some stuff to be brought to the hospital. We bought things he might need, toiletries, an adaptor for his phone and grapes to munch!
In the hospital, the Filipino seafarer was surprised to see us. He was not expecting us. The chaplain introduced himself. I extended my hand to him and said hello. The seafarer rose from his bed. ‘How did you know that I am here?’ he asked. ‘We got a call from the coast guard and we thought of dropping by to say hello, to see if you need anything from us’, we said. The seafarer looked at us with sorrow. He had company for now, in a foreign country, in the whitewashed and antiseptic glow of the morning sun flooding his room.
‘I could not breathe properly for several days and whilst working yesterday I thought I would collapse, so I asked our captain to bring me to the hospital,’ he said.
For the next hour or so, we talked about his family, his work at sea, and how he became a seafarer, his fears of losing his job if his medical condition proved to be worse than he thought.
We sat there listening to him, telling him that everything would be fine, that we will pray for him and his family.
‘Here’s a sim card and a top up’, the chaplain said. ‘Use that and call your family, have a video chat with them so that they will see you, and know that you are well looked after. They need not worry.’
The seafarer got out his phone and contacted his wife. Soon they were chatting. ‘See the people who are visiting me’, he said to his wife, ‘the chaplain and his friend. I don’t feel alone anymore.’
Then the seafarer cried.
I could not control myself. I cried, too. We just sat there silent, my tears falling down my cheeks. I hadn’t cried like this in years.
Before we left, the seafarer thanked the chaplain. ‘I will not forget you’, he said. You were here when I was not expecting you. You did not know me, but you found time to see me.