Most of us probably never give much thought to seafarers. They can seem remote from our daily lives. Yet they play a critical role. Without the world’s 1.5 million mariners we wouldn’t have many of the things we take for granted. Cars, computers, clothes, fruit, vegetables: these are just some of the items that are transported to Britain by ships.
This week we mark Sea Sunday when parishes are asked to support the Apostleship of the Sea (AoS), the Catholic Church’s maritime agency. Its chaplains and teams of volunteer ship visitors offer practical help and pastoral care to seafarers, either in ports or on cruise ships.
Much of what AoS teams do in port could be described as making small gestures. They provide mobile phone top-up cards, transport to local shops and warm clothing in the winter. They also try to help seafarers with their spiritual needs. This might mean arranging for Mass to be said on board a ship or providing rosaries or prayer books in different languages.
Earlier this year when a cargo ship was about to leave Southampton and it was discovered that it had a hole in its side, port chaplain Peter Morgan was there to support the crew. He visited them several times and also kept in touch through Facebook. This was greatly appreciated by the crew, as when seafarers arrive in a port they are always strangers in a foreign land.
Feeling isolated is one of the toughest parts of working at sea. Seafarers might have been at sea for months with no opportunity to contact their family back home. Despite all the modern technology used in the maritime industry, most ships don’t have internet access.
“Many seafarers have been at sea for long periods of time with normal contract lengths for ratings lasting six to nine months,” Morgan explains. “This length of time away from home and family, as well as little to no opportunity to relax and get away from the ship, means feeling isolated. Consequences of that isolation are felt on board many ships.”
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