Mapping the road ahead

Setting the Mission’s global strategy for the next five years

By Verity Relph

The past two years have affected seafarers’ lives dramatically, as they have the maritime welfare organisations who care for them. With seafarers unable to get ashore and traditional services such as centre hospitality and transport no longer viable in many ports, meeting crews at gangways and digital interaction are some of the ways in which The Mission to Seafarers has adapted to the changing environment.

It is against this backdrop that MtS has been working on its new global strategy for the next five years. So, what does strategy mean for an organisation like MtS? “Strategy guides and provides a foundation for our work through a particular period,” explains the Revd Canon Andrew Wright, secretary general of MtS. “Broadly speaking, it makes sure that our global service to seafarers is as effective, relevant and transformational as we can possibly make it.”

“We are acutely aware that the situation for seafarers is changing all the time,” he says. “A lot of our service is based around centres, transport, ship visiting and emergency response. Crew sizes continue to get smaller, turnarounds are quick, and more and more ships are getting accessible Wi-Fi on board.

“It’s not yet clear whether shore leave will ever return in the same way. The big question for us is what the outlook will be for seafarers in the next five years, how long will the impact of the pandemic last, and what does that mean for the Mission in terms of how we serve seafarers.”

The overarching vision for the 2022-26 strategic period is ‘to share God’s love and grace with all seafarers and their families by caring for them inclusively and holistically in the often- challenging circumstances of their lives’.

Port-based ministry will continue to be the central focus of MtS’ work, but the new strategy puts emphasis on other areas such as harnessing the possibilities of modern technology in seafarer support, exploring global and regional project opportunities, and building strong partnerships both locally and internationally.

“We want to make sure that we are being creative and entrepreneurial and adjusting our work to new circumstance,” says Canon Wright. Crucially, he continues, this is about developing services in response to seafarer need: “We want to hear the voices of seafarers and listen to what they are telling us.”

Blended support

So, what does this mean for seafarers globally? “We are maximising our efforts to get out to seafarers –rather than getting them to come to us – through enhanced ship visiting provision. We also recognise the need for a more blended approach, with both face-to-face encounters but also enhanced digital services.” This includes the launch of an app, which will be a one stop shop for seafarers accessing MtS services.

One area of focus will be expanding the work of MtS in some key seafaring hubs: “The Mission is always looking at where it needs to take its services further, for example we have recently opened up port ministry in Egypt and Israel. Port work is still the core of what we do and we want to continue to make those services as relevant, attractive and effective for crew as we possibly can.”

In recent years, MtS has been developing wider programmes, such as the Seafarers’ Happiness Index and WeCare, and these will continue to be strengthened.

Another very important development of the last strategic period, and one which MtS is keen to take further, is family networks. These networks, which already exist in the Philippines and are developing in India and Myanmar, offer a more holistic way of working with seafarers and their families back home.

Reflecting on MtS’ long history, Canon Wright explains: “We have always had to adjust the way we work as circumstances have changed but we remain absolutely committed to our fundamental Christian purposes of compassion expressed to seafarers in practical ways. The heart and soul of our work remains as it always has been, but we have to work out how we apply that in each new generation of seafarers.”

He concludes: “The last two years have been a challenging time for seafarers and a challenging time for MtS, but it has also been a period of opportunity. I am excited about what we can do to continue to improve and develop our work in careful consultation with seafarers.”