When was the Liverpool Seafarers’ Centre founded, how was the idea for it conceived, ie what was the inspiration for it? Did it develop from some previous seafarers’ welfare organisation/activity that existed prior to its foundation?
As a proud port city with a rich maritime heritage Liverpool’s seafarer outreach work dates back to the 19th century. The Anglican Mersey Mission to Seafarers was founded in 1856, and later followed by the Catholic Apostleship of the Sea (Liverpool), founded in 1937. Liverpool Seafarers Centre (LSC) as we know it today is the result of a successful partnership between the two organisations. The merger followed in the footsteps of Liverpool Bishops John Worlock and David Sheppard who worked tirelessly to overcome deep religious divisions between the Catholic and Anglican communities during the 1970s and 1980s. LSC initially began work in 2006 before it was officially formed on Oct 01, 2008. The Mersey Mission and Apostleship had previously worked in competition with one another, running small satellite centres including operations in Runcorn, Birkenhead and Salford. They worked independently with little to no communication between parties, leading to much duplication of work and services. The formation of LSC enabled the two organisations to dovetail and pool resources. This has essentially created a more efficient and coordinated seafarer outreach program for the city and betterment of visiting seafarers.
What were the Centre’s initial activities and how did seafarers benefit from it being established?
LSC’s initial activity involved streamlining the entire operation, cutting waste and removing duplicate services existing between the Mersey Mission and Apostleship. This in turn helped to free up resource. LSC appointed one central headquarters at Colonsay House in Crosby, Merseyside, in order to direct the seafarer welfare support programme. Work centred around on-board visits. The seafarers benefitted immediately because the support process was simplified. They were previously approached by multiple organisations and volunteers offering similar services. This has led to confusion and cross over. Seafarers lost track of who was who, and which organisation did what. Liverpool Seafarers Centre has a much clearer identity. The crew now know exactly who we are and what we can do to help.
How has the Centre developed over the years and have its activities evolved or changed in any way? What does it see as its mission and how does it intend to fulfil that mission going forward?
Today LSC provides support to 50,000 seafarers passing through the Port of Liverpool each year. It runs two centres on Merseyside – in Crosby and Eastham – which also serve the Manchester Ship Canal. Its support system extends far beyond the Liverpool dock estate. LSC’s general offering has developed greatly over the years, as it has become more proactive and professional. Its mission however has never changed and remains firmly focused on providing ‘a lifeline’ to seafarers, both active and retired, offering a safe and secure place to rest and also receive practical and emotional support.
LSC undertakes a wide variety of practical, emotional and spiritual work. For example, it often steps in when there are ‘major life events’ such as a family bereavement, trauma, marriage, divorce or birth of a child. It acts as a go-between and can talk to the ship management company if there are problems to ensure seafarers are being properly cared for. On a practical level it provides a variety of support including access to WIFI, money exchange and a physical base on land where crew can take a break from the vessel. Another key role involves ensuring the Port of Liverpool and the maritime industry on Merseyside maintains its reputation as a friendly caring port. It is one of the few port cities to have a seafarer welfare centre in a cruise terminal. This makes all the difference to the crew, who would otherwise struggle to find the time to travel to outreach centres. Liverpool is now leading the way in offering support to cruise ship crew.
There are two major factors which LSC believes are impacting the modern seafarer, and subsequently forcing an evolution in care and support. These are ‘Technology’ and ‘Mental Health’. While technology can be a power for good, transforming global communication, it has also created an isolation affect where seafarers withdraw from face-to-face human interaction during down time, in favour of technology. LSC is increasingly having to encourage seafarers to leave living quarters, exit the vessels and go ashore to interact with other people. Another important factor is that seafarers are not necessarily together as friends but work colleagues. It is very common to find mixed nationality crews, and for those who are perhaps the only member from their country or region of the world, the feeling of isolation is heightened. LSC now requests crew lists from all vessels, so they can identify in advance the numbers and mix of crew. On the mental health aspect, LSC volunteers are redoubling efforts to create lasting moments with the visiting seafarers by having meaningful conversations. This also allows them to open up and. The LSC support staff may be the only people seafarers feel confident talking to in complete confidence. In the event of any issues LSC can also secure the necessary support.
LSC has worked very hard to build relationships with all organisations within the Port of Liverpool ‘family’, for example the pilots – who are first to join and last to leave the vessel – the stevedores, boatman, police and customs. This in turns expands LSC’s network and reach.
The centre has also developed in terms of staff and volunteer training. LSC is a member of the worldwide maritime organisation ICMA (International Christian Maritime Association) where it is bound by a code of conduct. All LSC support workers also receive training through a Ship Welfare Visiting Program. This provides instruction on protocol for accessing the port estate, boarding a vessel and managing crew. This training is essential and ensure all support workers are better equipped. LSC has also invested in official staff and volunteer uniforms, including PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to ensure the team is clearly visible and professional. Staff and volunteer numbers continue to rise in order to deliver its expanding brief with a total of 20 active volunteers. To fulfil its mission moving forward LSC is also considering extending its seven-day service to ‘round-the-clock’ 24-hour care. LSC believes this will be particularly important in line with the expansion of the Port of Liverpool with the second phase of Peel Ports’ Liverpool2 program due to complete in 2019.
Can you give details of any particularly new activities/developmental plans for the Centre that have been put in place? What progress is being made with these?
LSC has ambitious expansion plans to open three new support hubs across Merseyside and Cumbria. Although still in planning, the aim is to extend support to seafarers in the Port of Garston, Silloth and Barrow, all operated by ABP (Associated British Ports). The charity is seeking a lease agreement for space at Garston Harbour Office to kickstart the initiative after securing internal funding. The Ports of Garston, Silloth and Barrow each receive up to five vessels per week with around eight members of crew per vessel. The ports however are known for being more remote with varying degrees of local infrastructure and amenities for visiting seafarers. The purpose of opening specialised hubs in these locations is to maximise the support it can deliver.
Communication is vital to delivering effective seafarer support. LSC is preparing to launch a new VHF Radio service which will allow direct communication with vessels prior to and whilst in port. This will greatly improve service delivery. LSC will be able to connect with the ship master or chief officer while the vessel is entering the port to introduce the welfare service, while supplying a band width number for ongoing communication and support. This will require all LSC staff and volunteers to sit a national examination with the Royal Yachting Association, before securing hardware and a licence from OFCOM.
Another key development involves LSC’s port levy initiative with shipping lines to boost funds for seafarer support. In October 2017 LSC gained permission from Peel Ports to allow a voluntary levy to be applied to shipping lines coming into the Mersey Ports, in line with the recommendations of the Maritime Labour Convention, MLC 2006. The amount shipping lines pay is calculated by gross tonnage. Similar seafarers’ centres operating in ports around the world have negotiated successful Port Levies. The levy is proving a successful move and shipping lines currently agreeing to the contribution include ACL, Seatruck, Stena and P&O.
In 2017, LSC launched a new £40,000 hub on the Wirral which has beaten all expectations. The new centre located at Queen Elizabeth II Dock, Eastham and was opened by The Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside Dame Lorna Muirhead. It works in partnership with the headquarters in Crosby. It has been supported by donations from Essar’s Stanlow oil refinery in Ellesmere Port, Peel Ports, the Merchant Navy Welfare Board, proceeds from Mersey River Pilots raffle and the Mersey Maritime Industry Awards raffle, the Voluntary Aid Club Dinner and The Phoebe Wortley Charitable Trust. The new centre enables LSC to maximise the support it gives to seafarers docking within the various berths on the Manchester Ship Canal. The centre follows the model of the Liverpool base offering practical and emotional support as well as a lounge, internet and gaming facilities and transport.
LSC is further stepping up efforts to deliver church services on board vessels after reporting a rise in demand for spiritual support from crew members. It now offers wide-ranging spiritual support including church services, sacrament and blessings directly on-board vessels. Many seafarers on cruise vessels are only permitted up to two hours shore leave making it difficult to attend church services. Crew on merchant vessels too are precluded from attending church services, even when in port due to operations on board. In the first few weeks of 2018, LSC delivered six services – an increase on the same period last year, when it delivered a total of 12 services throughout the year. The port welcomes seafarers from all over the world including countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, India and the Philippines. This increased activity ensured LSC can provide spiritual support aligned to whichever Christian denomination they follow – Catholic, Protestant, Methodist. The important point is that LSC is able to support spiritual and emotional needs in equal measure to seafarers physical and more practical requirements.
Does the Centre have links with similar centres and seafarers’ welfare organisations in the rest of the UK, in Europe and further afield? Is there any sort of seafarers’ welfare organisations’ association or network to which the Liverpool Seafarers’ Centre belongs and, if so, how does it and the seafarers who use its facilities benefit from this?
LSC has the greatest connection with the Ports of Belfast and Dublin. It works with both the Belfast and Dublin Mission to Seafarers Centres as well as Dublin’s Apostleship of the Sea representative. It is also in constant contact with the chaplains in both citie sharing information about vessels and crew members in need of support. LSC also belongs to ICMA (International Christian Maritime Association) – a subscription network involving 28 members across the globe. This is a vital source for knowledge transfer and sharing best practice. Members include the likes of the Mission to Seafarers which have in the region of 280 centres around the world, as well as the Sailors Society which has a similar network, along with the Apostleship of Sea. In terms of benefit to seafarers, as part of the ICMA membership LSC adheres to a code of conduct which ensures it delivers services in a professional and ethical manner. The members also operate a referral system, where they can communicate about on-going situations and flag seafarers at risk anywhere in globe.
I’ve asked about the Centre’s mission but can you sum up its vision for the future and its aspirations, goals and targets in one or two sentences as a concluding statement for the article. A direct quote from the head of the Centre would be most appropriate.
The working life of a seafarer is hard and at times dangerous. Seafaring can be a lonely and isolating job and crew frequently do not have people to talk to. LSC aims exercise core Christian values of love, care and respect through its outreach work. It also aims to show seafarers from around the world that Merseyside cares and understands the challenges they face. Around 95pc of everything we consume in Britain is transported by sea and we rely on the silent invisible army of brave men and women who crew ships to support our economy and way of life. LSC’s work is really a tribute to that silent workforce and a way of saying thank you. As a sign of our gratitude LSC is planning to extend its network across the North West UK region, in Merseyside and Cumbria, so that we can serve 10pc to 20pc more seafarers each year on average. And in order to achieve that goal we are looking to expand our entire operation with more volunteers and salaried staff.