The CEO of a Crosby-based charity mission has highlighted the sacrifices made by the world’s seafarers ahead of a key date in the religious calendar.
On 11th July churches around the world celebrate Sea Sunday, an annual day where congregations recognise the role seafarers play in our daily lives and raise funds for the missions supporting them.
With COVID-19 keeping many of them at sea for more than a year, there has been a massive impact on mental health.
“In the last 15 months, the world’s seafarers have faced unimaginable struggle – and some of the people we speak with have also had to deal with personal trauma on top of this,” says Liverpool Seafarers Centre CEO John Wilson, who cites the example of Filipino chief cook Robinson.
“Robinson works on board a coastal container vessel which travels to North European ports such as Belfast, Dublin and Rotterdam and comes into Liverpool every seven to 10 days. Just as he was coming to the end of his contract, he received communication that his dad has diabetes.
“In the West, we have regular screenings for diabetes as we get older and receive a great deal of state support if we are diagnosed; but in many countries this doesn’t happen – everything has to be paid for.
“Robinson is now at home with his family. His dad is severely ill and needs dialysis three times a week – but they can’t afford to pay for it. Because he’s not at sea, he’s not earning the money to support his family and pay for his dad’s treatment: he’s torn between leaving the family to get back to work to earn money and staying at home to support them emotionally.”
LSC, which has roots dating back to the 19th Century, supports around 50,000 seafarers passing through Liverpool’s ports each year, offering a safe and secure place to rest as well as practical and emotional support.
Another example of the kind of hardship it regularly witnesses is Gupta, who is from Pakistan. “I asked him recently how he was feeling. He told me about a friend he grew up with: they lived close by one another and played football, played cricket, did everything together,” says Wilson.
“Gupta had just got news that his friend had died from COVID. He was diagnosed only about three or four days prior and didn’t have an opportunity to get to hospital. Like many of us, Gupta believed that COVID only strikes the elderly; his friend was in his mid-20s, living at home, very healthy.
“He was absolutely distraught, thinking that the worst was going to happen to him as well. I tried to explain to him that this is not necessarily how it works; but he felt completely helpless.”
Ships are usually crewed by people of a variety of nationalities, with a typical workforce potentially including Chinese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Indians, Bangladeshis, Poles, Bulgarians, Croatians, Russians and Ukrainians.
These workers deliver 95% of all UK goods – from fuel to food, clothes, electronics and medicines – and lead the nation’s exports, yet the LSC believes they are not being treated with the respect that they deserve when it comes to protection from COVID.
“I’m always asked: have you had a vaccination? I’m not going to deny it: I tell them I’ve had two. They then ask: how do we get it? I have to tell them that it’s just not as simple as that,” says Wilson. “We are talking to NHS England and local commissioning groups about how to fit these 50-60,000 people into the vaccination programme, because they are unable to get the jabs at home.”
He adds: “Chaplaincies such as ours are a listening ear, just someone these people can have a conversation with. We talk to them about all sorts of things: it might be about cricket with Indians and Pakistanis; about boxing and Manny Pacquiao with Filipinos; or about Premier League football teams.
“Sea Sunday is a Christian tradition where churches come together and offer their prayers for seafarers. Historically, they would have a collection to support the work done by chaplaincies and charities here in the UK but also throughout the world.
“It is becoming more and more difficult to do that these days – but we must do what we can to remember the incredibly tough job that these people do to benefit us all.”
You can donate to the Liverpool Seafarers Centre at www.paypal.com/paypalme/liverpoolseafarers
Note to editors
Sea Sunday, which is celebrated on the second Sunday in July, is an occasion where churches come together across the globe to recognise the role seafarers play in our daily lives and thank them for the sacrifices they make. It is regarded as a major date in the calendar.
• Liverpool Seafarers Centre, which won the Positive Impact Award at the Mersey Maritime Industry Awards 2020 in March, helps 50,000 seafarers each year visiting Merseyside ports. It is a partnership between Apostleship of the Sea (Liverpool) and The Mersey Mission to Seafarers. In September 2019, LSC was awarded the world’s best seafarer centre at the International Seafarer Welfare Awards (ISWAN) as nominated and voted for by mariners themselves. The charity’s work involves visiting vessels to integrate with the crew, offering a listening ear to help combat isolation and loneliness and providing places ashore for seafarers to relax away from their working environment.
• LSC is funded by donations from the churches, we well as general donations and a new port levy on shipping lines.
• LSC is headquartered at Colonsay House in Crosby and opened a new centre in Eastham on Wirral opened in 2017.
• Corporate supporters of LSC include: Essar’s Stanlow oil refinery in Ellesmere Port, Peel Ports, the Merchant Navy Welfare Board, the Mersey River Pilots, Mersey Maritime, Polaris Media Management, the Voluntary Aid Club and The Phoebe Wortley Charitable Trust.