Support through extraordinary times

The Mission has reached out to help seafarers during the Covid-19 pandemic

By Verity Relph

The Covid-19 crisis has hit crews and their families across the globe hard and the Mission to Seafarers has had to work quickly to adapt and explore new ways to support seafarers in this fast-moving and ever-evolving situation.

With most seafarers centres closed and less than 40% of front-line staff able to meet seafarers face-to-face, one of the first questions was how to continue an effective ministry. At the beginning of the pandemic, the Mission launched Chat to a Chaplain, a 24-hour chat facility for seafarers and their families. The service means seafarers can engage instantly with chaplains from the Mission and member organisations of the International Christian Maritime Association.

In port, the Mission’s chaplains have been responding on a request basis, working with port authorities, agents and seafarers themselves to discuss the need and offer whatever assistance they can. Teams have been providing phone cards via “socially distant” ship visits at the top of gangways and lending MiFi units to ships so crews have access to Wi-Fi whilst they are in port. Good quality connectivity is a top priority for seafarers, especially now during these long and seemingly endless periods away from loved ones.

Local teams are used to dealing with requests in port but with crews unable to get ashore, chaplains and volunteers have been busier than ever helping seafarers get everything from toothpaste to ping pong balls to guitar strings. Many have shown their appreciation for the efforts of local teams: “Thank you so much for visiting us. Sometimes we feel forgotten but you have made us feel human again.” “You might think that this is just a sim card, but to me this means life!” One seafarer in Southampton expressed his thanks after the chaplain helped him obtain life-saving medication: “Thank you so much for your effort sir. I’m emotional a bit when I’ve got the package, tears of joy.”

As seafarers centres begin to reopen once again, the Mission has also been working to ensure its 121 centres and vehicles are “safe” for crew coming ashore. All centres are being equipped with PPE, sanitizers and Perspex screens to protect staff and crew.

Supporting families in Tuticorin

Advocacy is another element of the Mission’s work that has played an important part during the pandemic. With crew changes delayed and seafarers unable to join ship, many families have been struggling financially. In India, for example, the Mission team has been distributing essential commodities such as rice, oil and vegetables to hundreds of families of fishing and seafaring communities affected by the lockdown in Tuticorin. Meanwhile, in Manila the Mission to Seafarers Family Network has been providing transportation facilities to returning seafarers who have completed quarantine, and sending food to local dormitories for seafarers unable to travel and visit supermarkets.

Back in the UK, the Mission has recently helped over 100 stranded Indian nationals who were studying at maritime colleges and unable to get home due to the lockdown. With support from ISWAN’s Seafarers Emergency Fund, the Mission provided urgent support with their rent and food costs.

One of those helped was Sanil who had come to the UK to undertake his Chief Engineer exams. “I was totally upset and worried as there was no ray light for getting back to my loved ones and uncertainty everywhere”. Now safely back in Kerala with his family, he described the Mission as a “Home away from Home”: “It was a great relief for me and I started feeling that at least somebody is there to look after me in this crisis situation. Thanks a lot for the selfless and unconditional support given by the Mission to Seafarers.”

Whether stuck onboard with no idea when they will be able to leave ship or at home struggling financially, support from organisations such as the Mission to Seafarers is more important than ever. We can only hope that we will soon see a return to normality, and that seafarers will once again be back meeting with shore staff and using centres again.

To access Chat to a Chaplain, visit www.missiontoseafarers.org or www.icma.as and click on the Chat function.