Look around you. Your phone, your computer, your cup of coffee: 90% of everything you use comes by sea, transported by an often-invisible workforce of 1.6 million seafarers.
Without them, we would miss most of the things we rely on every day. To bring those things to us, seafarers in turn miss many of the things we take for granted.
Life at sea can be rewarding and fulfilling, but it’s not without its challenges.
Seafarers leave their homes and loved ones to go to sea for up to a year at a time, facing extreme loneliness, violent storms, the threat of piracy and even hijacking by terrorists.
Many of these men and women come from the world’s poorest communities, with limited career options.
At maritime charity Sailors’ Society, we’re passionate about telling people that seafarers matter.
Because while they bring us 90 per cent of everything we own, the reality is that seafarers are often overlooked – an invisible workforce.
Working in 30 countries around the world, Sailors’ Society chaplains, volunteers and project staff help seafarers, their families and communities with welfare and practical support in times of need.
With long contracts, seafarers are far from loved ones and not able to access the everyday services that others take for granted.
So Sailors’ Society chaplains and volunteers visit crews on board ships offering everything from a friendly ear and counselling, to transport into town and Wi-Fi.
They can make a huge difference to seafarers in need, like the crew of a “sorry-looking ship” that our Leith chaplain Pauline Robertson met in port.
“The crew from India, Turkey and Georgia, hadn’t been paid for three months,” she said.
“A terrible storm had damaged their ship and they were stranded with no fresh fruit, bread, veg, or warm clothes. I knew I could help.
“The churches of Leith and the wider community stepped in – I was overwhelmed by folks’ response. Many warm tops and jumpers were given to the crew, along with tons of food. The men were astounded by the response to their situation.”
Seafaring can also be very isolating. Fatigue, poor mental health and stress can affect seafarers on a daily basis and be the difference between safe transit and a major incident.
Sailors’ Society’s award-winning Wellness at Sea coaching programme, free app and e-learning platform aim to combat these issues and help seafarers cope with life at sea (www.sailors-society.org/wellness).
Our Not On My Watch campaign seeks to raise awareness of depression and suicide at sea and is calling on the industry to make changes that will tackle the issue. And Sailors’ Society’s Crisis Response Network provides 24-hour counselling and support to survivors of incidents such as abandonment, ambush and accident.
No less challenging are the restrictions of communication while at sea. With limited internet and long spells away, contact with home can be infrequent, and the phone cards and free internet our chaplains can provide are ever popular.
The difficulties of being away from home were evident in the case of seafarer Rodel, whose family home was destroyed by fire. Away at sea, Rodel was helpless.
Fortunately, Sailors’ Society chaplain Jasper del Rosario was able to support Rodel’s family in his absence.
“It’s very hard for a seafarer like me to have such an incident happen to my family while I’m not around,” Rodel told us on Facebook.
“Thank you Sailors’ Society for being there when my family is in need.”
Sailors’ Society has long seen education as a route out of poverty and deprivation and continues to invest in seafarers’ education through our nautical grants and scholarships programme.
We bring seafaring communities in need together to improve their futures by building new homes, classrooms, school boats and medical centres, and through family outreach projects such as our Seafarers’ Pupils’ Club in the Philippines.
All of this has been made possible by the generous support of our volunteers and donors, both individuals and trade organisations.
Sailors’ Society reaches out to around 1,000 seafarers and their families each day and there are many ways you can help us help more.
- You could sign-up for one of our challenge events such as the back-to-nature Loch Ness Challenge (2-4 August), a 60-mile paddle along the great glen canoe trail, or the join our cycle team for the famous RideLondon (4 August).
- Or if you fancy something a little more sedate, join us at our ING Wine tasting which offers the chance to sample wines from around the world and view ING’s private art collection.
- Or perhaps your company would like to explore a charity partnership?
- Or if you have time to give you could volunteer for one of our ship visitor teams.
To get involved go to: https://www.sailors-society.org/get-involved/..
We all rely on seafarers. It’s good to give something back!
This is a guest post by Sandra Welch, deputy CEO and director of programme, Sailors’ Society..