Over the holiday period and into New Year 2015, there have been a string of maritime incidents in the news, particularly in Europe. All of these have impacted on seafarers and their families and some have resulted in tragedy. Andrew Wright, Secretary General of global maritime welfare charity The Mission to Seafarers, reflects on these reminders of the ongoing dangers and fragilities of life at sea.
Having just travelled back from a visit to The Mission to Seafarers in Southampton, UK last night, the crew of the Hoegh Osaka have been uppermost in my mind, particularly after speaking at length with John Attenborough, Mission Port Chaplain based in the Seafarers’ Centre there who has been heavily involved in support of the rescued crew since they were brought ashore. It was a surprise to some of our friends and supporters that The Mission to Seafarers is part of that essential ‘first-responder’ multi-agency team of help in the UK in the event of maritime disaster. The coastguard called John at 11pm on that Saturday night and by 2am the team had the Southampton Seafarers’ Centre open. That is where the crew gathered in the immediate aftermath of such a dramatic and unexpected event. The crew were able to call anxious family, receive warm clothing, and enjoy hot drinks and food. Those on hand in Southampton included staff and volunteers, with our sister charities all working together with one overarching aim – to be there when seafarers need us.
The most important part of our work is to ensure that crews have people to talk to in a crisis who are not employers or police or lawyers or media. I was struck by one comment made to me recently from within the industry about Mission work. “You are often the only people”, I was told, “who are not demanding something from seafarers.” After a major incident those who are injured are taken to hospital, but those who are not can come to us. Our work is confidential, rightly under the radar in many ways, and always offered in the spirit of friendship, care and compassion.
There have been other incidents close to the UK where the outcome has been much grimmer. The crew of the MV Cemfjord have not been found and over the weekend The Mission to Seafarers has been working with Brise shipping company and the local community in Wick Scotland to find an appropriate response for the families left behind. The Mission’s Chaplain based in Cyprus will be talking to officials of the Cypriot Flag State, where the vessel was registered, and offering appropriate support. We have offered our support services to Brise for family in the Philippines and those in Poland in relation to bereavement care and practical support. A church service was held too, for those lost and the rescue services in Wick; candles were lit for the families over prayers.
The breadth of work undertaken by Mission to Seafarers’ chaplains and teams is extraordinary. We do find ourselves dealing with emergencies, as over the Christmas period, and our staff are trained in post-trauma first response. More widely we visit ships, offering support, practical help, friendship and advice. We supply transport facilities, enabling seafarers to get off ships and connect with local communities. We provide hospitality, a warm welcome and communication facilities in our centres. We visit seafarers following accident, illness or bereavement. We deal with crew who have been abandoned far from home or who find themselves in prison.
For all this, however, we remain dependent on the generosity of others who share our passion for the well-being of seafarers on whom we are all so dependent. However, we can only do this through the deep generosity of those who care and are passionate about the value of seafaring life. If you are interested in our work, please do get in touch.