Ros Downs encourages us all to pray for merchant seafarers and their families this Sea Sunday, 11 July, as well as consider how we can support them
I am a female retired naval architect with many years of experience in the defence shipbuilding industry. I now visit merchant ships and ports in all weathers, as I am a ship welfare visitor for the Mission to Seafarers (MTS) in South Wales. It has made me realise how much comes into UK by sea and how vital the ships and seafarers are.
I focus on the wellbeing of the crews, letting them know what is available for them ashore, ensuring they can contact home, as well as looking out for any other issues. I love to talk to the seafarers, who come from many nations, and listen to their experiences. They are a fantastic but forgotten people. The conditions seafarers live in has improved over the years due to international regulations and the International Transport Federation, but COVID has caused huge difficulties.
The impact of the pandemic
The seafarers currently have huge restrictions on going ashore, in case they catch the virus. If they do end up shopping for supplies in supermarkets, they are very vulnerable as they have limited PPE. Most do not know when they are going to get to go home, due to lack of flights and countries closing their borders. They also worry about their loved ones at home, in case they catch the virus.
Some seafarers are not getting work contracts, so are stuck at home, unable to get to the ships to work, which means they have run into financial difficulties.
I have done my best to help during the lockdowns by visiting as many ships as I can. Sometimes it is difficult to have a conversation when you are at the end of the gangway wearing full PPE for working on the docks (hard hat, gloves and safety glasses), as well as the appropriate COVID PPE (a mask and visor). It makes it harder to deal with sensitive or personal issues.
I go aboard ships because I am concerned for the seafarers’ welfare. I also update them about what is going on around the world, so they don’t feel so disconnected. We provide top-ups for their mobile phones so they can speak to their families. We also shop for essentials if they need them. Some seafarers have had insufficient toiletries during the pandemic, but hotels have generously begun to donate their toiletries to MTS, so we can get them to the crews. Socks, underwear, chocolate and nuts are also common requests, and we also provide woolly hats, knitted by parishioners. These are a particular favourite of Filipino seafarers, who find they are always cold in the European climate.
Many seafarers have a strong Christian faith, so it is great to be able to keep in contact with them and provide them with prayers and texts.
Please pray for seafarers
Here are a couple of prayers you could use to pray for seafarers and their families.
A prayer for seafarers
O Eternal Lord God, who alone spreads out the heavens and rules the raging of the seas, receive into your protection all those who go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business on the great waters of the world. Preserve them both in body and soul, prosper their labours with good success, in all times of danger, be their defence, and bring them to the haven where they would be.
We ask this in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
A prayer for the families of seafarers
We pray for the families of seafarers, often separated for long periods from their fathers, husbands, mothers and wives. Protect those families and help them stay close together until they are reunited. Bless the children of seafarers at school and at college and help them in their learning.
We pray all this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Mission to Seafarers is a mission agency of the Church of England and operates in over 250 ports throughout the world, where they are sometimes the only friendly face seafarers see when they are away from home for up to a year. They rely on donations to keep this vital work going. Find out more about their work, and how your church can get involved with Sea Sunday at missiontoseafarers.org/sea-sunday