Christmas for seafarers can be a very difficult time, whether they are at sea or in a foreign port. They are away from their loved ones, and it is especially challenging for those who have children back at home.
Unlike those fortunate people who may have several days or even weeks away from work during the Christmas and New Year period to celebrate and spend time with family and friends, for seafarers it is often business as usual, just normal working days with the same routine.
Seafarers are under increasing pressure to adapt to a rapidly changing working conditions with more automation, and meeting more stringent regulations such as ballast water treatment and new rules on emissions and other environmental issues. Christmas can offer a brief respite to those routines and pressures and enable those on board to relax and reflect.
Onboard those ships that provide internet and other communication facilities, seafarers may be able to speak with and perhaps see their families, on what is a special day. Emails can offer the privacy to communicate personal thoughts and feelings. But they do not lessen, and can often increase, the sense of separation. Of course, we know that many ships still do not have such facilities, even though they are an increasingly essential part of everyday life. For seafarers on those vessels what communication that is available is even more precious.
Our thoughts must go out even more to those seafarers unfortunate enough to be on ships whose owners do not provide even basic facilities or recognise that Christmas is a special time with a need to enable seafarers to celebrate in some way or contact their families. For those seafarers who find themselves abandoned in a foreign port, and of which there are still far too many, we take the opportunity to redouble our efforts to give them the basic rights they deserve.
Even for those ships in foreign ports during the Christmas period, it is not straightforward. They may be in countries that do not celebrate Christmas or engaged in work that cannot take a break. If normal working is not taking place, local facilities may be shut down completely for one or more days.
Despite all efforts to provide home comforts, leisure facilities and communications, it is impossible to get away from the fact that the job entails being away from partners, children and other family members often for extended periods of time and nothing can entirely compensate for that.
For those seafarers in ports with access to Missions to Seafarers facilities, or those of other seafarers’ charities, they can provide a welcome refuge and services where seafarers can escape at least for a short period the daily pressures and contact their families if they cannot do so onboard. At Christmas, in particular, this can be a vital respite for the men and women who are providing an essential service and sacrificing being with their loved ones at a special time of year. Wherever they may be seafarers deserve our thoughts during this period and the support of those taking their time to make what can be an especially challenging time, just a little more bearable.
We wish everyone in the maritime industry, whether at sea or ashore, working or at home, the very best Christmas for you and your families.