By Greg Watts
With seafarers in the front line of maintaining the world’s supply of food, fuel and medical supplies and equipment through the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak, Stella Maris (Apostleship of the Sea) port chaplains are continuing to provide them with practical help and pastoral care.
Its 230 chaplains, who work in over 300 ports in 41 countries, are using the telephone, social media and the port authorities to keep in contact with seafarers and to provide them with sim cards, so they can contact their families; toiletries; and other basic items.
In the Philippines, where around a third of the world’s 1.5 million seafarers come from, port chaplain in Manila and Stella Maris regional coordinator, Fr Paulo Prigol and his team are accommodating 120 seafarers in three seafarers’ centres during lockdown and providing them with daily meals.
“As of now food supply is available and we are allowed to go to the supermarket once or twice a week only. The local government units have issued identification cards for each centre.”
He added that the centres, which are cleaned daily with disinfectant, each have a gym, cable TV, and a good internet service with free Wi-Fi.
“At this moment of national lockdown, there is no way of visiting the fishers, said Fr. Rico Talisic, port chaplain in Cape Town, South Africa. “But I have contact with some of them who are on the dock. Everyday I send messages to them asking how are they, giving them updates of what is going on here in Cape and asking them to be careful and stay safe.”
Fr Talisic has been providing seafarers with data and Sim cards. “With the communication I have with them, I learned there is nothing to worry about except that many of them have no more cell phone credits to continue their communication with their family and friends and to have access the outside world beyond the port.”
In Taiwan, Fr Yance Guntur, port chaplain in Kaohsiung, has distributed hand sanitisers and face masks to a group of fishermen, who have been barred from leaving their vessels.
While the seamen’s club in Ghent, Belgium, has been closed, port chaplain Fr André Quintelier and his team of volunteer ship visitors are still allowed to continue visiting vessels, but must adhere to strict health and safety guidelines.
In the UK, port chaplain to the Tyne Paul Atkinson has been putting together packages of toiletries, chocolate and prayer books for seafarers. These are delivered to ships by the harbour master, port pilots, or shipping agents.
“This way we can show our care and support for seafarers in a different way. And show we are still alongside them as they continue to sail the seas to support their families,” said Paul.
Elsewhere, Steve Willows, a port chaplain in Immingham, Lincolnshire, is making rosaries with twine for seafarers, after watching a You Tube video explaining how to do it.
Esteban Pacha, chair of trustees for Stella Maris in Great Britain, and a former ship’s captain, said, “In this time of societal upheaval, ensuring the continuity of maritime trade is vital for the global supply chain and global trade flows, including currently crucial items such as vital medical supplies and equipment, as well as food and energy.
“We would not have these items were it not for seafarers. They might not be visible to us, but our lives depend on them, especially at this critical period for our world.”