The chances are that many of the things in our homes arrived in Britain on a ship. Our washing machine, TV, those oranges, that frozen fish in the freezer.
If it wasn’t for the world’s seafarers, we would have none of these. Seafarers perform one of the world’s hardest and most dangerous jobs, and are often away from their families for months at a time. This means they not only can miss the birth of a child or other significant family moments, but they can also experience anxiety over relationships. Around the coast of Britain, Apostleship of the Sea (AoS) operates teams of port chaplains and volunteer ship visitors. Their role is to offer practical help and pastoral care to the seafarers they meet. David Chamberlain, a ship visitor in Poole, Dorset, said, “What I find most rewarding is a sense that AoS welcomes the stranger, and does so in the name of Jesus; seeing Christ in those we meet, in a work place and in situations which few see but on which all of us in the UK depend.”
He admitted that he was surprised when he first became a ship visitor. “The crew on many ships is quite small, maybe five or six, including the captain, chief officer and engineer. I was also struck by the loneliness of seafarers, who spend months away from their home and family.”David’s role as a ship visitor is to offer whatever help he can to the seafarers he meets. This might mean providing mobile phone top-up cards or access to the internet (most ships don’t have this), arranging transport to local shops, or for a priest to celebrate Mass on board a vessel.The vast majority of seafarers of ships visiting British ports are from abroad, notably from the Philippines. Hugh and Mary Ward, two ship visitors in Teesport, recently visited Cebu City to learn about the work of AoS in the Philippines and to gain an insight into the home the lives of Filipino seafarers.
“The port chaplain, Father John Mission, is the cornerstone of the AoS in Cebu,” said Mary. “He has a large active volunteer group to support his work. Also he has regular contact with the many agencies who support AoS and the seafarers’ families. “We attended a monthly meeting at which there were approximately 20 volunteers. As well as ship visiting, the volunteers visit, the seafarer’s hospital, school, and marine academy. They also carry out various other duties such as catechesis, support families and teaching.”
“We now understand and can visualise places and conditions the crews talk about,” said Hugh. “Seafarers accept the sacrifices of missing out in family life. They acknowledge their contractual duties, which enables them to support their own and extended families.” This month is Sea Sunday [July 8] when the Church asks us to support the valuable, and often hidden, work of AoS. Seafarers may be invisible to us, but without them we would not have many of the things we take for granted each day.