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Port chaplains and the pandemic

Esteban Pacha, chair of the trustees of Stella Maris and a former ship’s captain, writes for Splash today on what the charity has been doing to help seafarers during the Covid-19 crisis.

The 230 Stella Maris chaplains working in 300 ports in 41 countries have been supporting seafarers in many ways during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The most important thing is for seafarers to keep in touch with their families, which is why our chaplains are doing all they can to provide phone card top-ups and sim cards. In many cases, their families are in lock down back home and they are worried about how they are coping.

Some port chaplains have been able to get welfare packages, made up of toiletries and other basic items, delivered to ships anchored outside ports, with the help of pilots and shipping companies.

Our Clyde port chaplain recently took food supplies to some foreign fishermen who work on the Ayrshire Coast. While down there he met a couple of fishermen who told him they were desperate for a bike. He had his spare bike in the car, so he gave it to them.

Social media has been crucial for our chaplains to maintain contact with seafarers. This has enabled them to provide spiritual and emotional support to those going through difficult times on board.

Recently, Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth sent a video message of support to lift the morale of crews on P&O and Cunard cruise ships that are anchored off the south coast.

Not being able to go on board ships is frustrating for our chaplains, but they have quickly learned to adapt to these difficult circumstances and support seafarers in whatever ways they can.

Stella Maris continues playing a vital role supporting seafarers in other regions of the world. For example, in Taipei in Taiwan our port chaplain and his team of volunteers handed out face masks, woolly hats, scarves, and leaflets on protection from Covid-19 to fishermen at the port.

In Manila in the Philippines, 120 seafarers that were about to travel to board their ships remain locked down in three different Stella Maris seafarers’ centres. With the help of many donors, Stella Maris is able to provide free board and lodging to them all, while also giving financial assistance to their families in the form of gift vouchers to purchase food or medicines.

The Covid-19 pandemic is easily the biggest challenge our port chaplains have faced in recent times. Their valuable experience feeds our management and governance decision-making processes at Stella Maris in order to put in place mechanisms to better support and adapt their vital work to the new circumstances, and what will soon be the “new normal”.

Through its global network, Stella Maris collaborates not only with other welfare charities, but also with corporate maritime stakeholders, participating also in international fora, such as ILO and IMO, to promote improvement of human element policies and legislation applicable to seafarers and fishers.

Major efforts have been made by the shipping industry and maritime community to protect crews during the coronavirus outbreak, to which Stella Maris has also joined its voice. In addition, Stella Maris has launched a global survey to find out the impact of Covid-19 on the lives of seafarers and on their families. Using this information, we will be able to work out what kind of help we need to provide in the short and medium term.

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  1. IMO plutocrats and clergy agree on the essential, the maintenance of the structures that ensure their dominance over seafarers, the last pariah of the planet.

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