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Centacare ministry helping overcome seafarers’ loneliness though their ministry to the high seas

Sea mission: Centacare’s Barry Guest who goes on board vessels as they dock at the Port of Brisbane.

SHIP captain Dmytro Krylov relishes the few hours he spends on dry land and away from his vessel, visiting the Brisbane Seafarers’ Centre.

“It’s a time to relax and enjoy a fresh breeze,” the 35-year-old captain of the container ship Harrier Hunter said.

For four months at a time, Captain Krylov is out at sea, in command of his vessel with 22 crew on board, as it plies the world’s busy shipping lanes.

“I pray for my crew and my cargo, every day,” he said. 

Captain Krylov belongs to Ukraine’s Orthodox Church and said he brought his religious icons on board with him – it helped him keep his faith under the pressures of his often lonely job.

His Polish chief engineer Jacek Szaudel, 41, is also enjoying the respite of a short shore break. 

“My grandfather was a seaman, my father was a seaman, so this is the life for me,” he said.

After their ship docked in the Port of Brisbane recently, both men were greeted by volunteer Dave Kreis, who drives the Seafarers’ Mission mini-bus, and brought to the Stella Maris Mission to Seafarers Centre in the nearby Bayside suburb of Wynnum.

The centre is a part of the worldwide Catholic Apostleship of the Sea Ministry, funded and operated in Brisbane by Centacare Pastoral Ministries.

“It’s an important ministry,” Apostleship of the Sea – Stella Maris Centre manager Lloyd West said. “Everyone should appreciate what seafarers do for us all.

“If we didn’t have a ship coming in we’d have no TVs, no washing machines, no commodities, and going out is our coal and wheat.”

At the Seafarers’ Centre, visiting sailors are able to change small amounts of money and go shopping. They often receive small, donated items like hand-knitted beanies, and toiletry items, and perhaps most importantly, they can log on to the centre’s wi-fi service.

It’s a chance to contact their families on the other side of the world.

“Sometimes it’s hard, but this is my work – no other choice to earn a good salary,” Captain Krylov said, as he messaged his wife and two children. “Of course I miss them very much.”

Time out: Captain Dmytro Krylov and chief engineer Jacek Szaudel, visiting Brisbane’s Seafarers’ Centre.

Following four months at sea, Captain Krylov spends four months at home with his family.

It’s always the best of times, he said: “We go to church – my wife and children – every Sunday.”

From a young age, Captain Krylov said he had dreamt of going to sea.

 He became a sailor at 18, studied hard at a maritime academy, moved up the onboard ranks quickly and became a ship captain with a highly-regarded German-based shipping company.

“I was lucky, I found a good company. I travel, see the world and get paid well,” he said.

Mr West said visiting seafarers appreciated the hospitality they were offered when they arrived. 

“The main thing is for them to get off that floating steel box,” he said. “They come here (to the Seafarers’ Centre) and often they go for a walk on the waterfront, and you might wonder why do they want to go to the waterfront?

“It’s because they’ve got their feet on the grass, they haven’t got the drum of the motor from the ship. Getting off the ship is very good for their psychological state of mind.”

The Seafarers’ Mission also visits crew who stay on board their ships. 

Centacare’s Barry Guest is a pastoral worker who goes on board and offers words of encouragement, sometimes practical advice.

“We try to go out ship-visiting five days a week,” Mr West said.

“We have a chat with crew members, listen if they have problems to discuss, and if we can help we will refer them to somebody.”

Mr West said issues of loneliness and isolation was common. 

Crew members may also have complaints about pay and conditions. It may be that a SIM card for their phone can help crewmen bridge the gap with their far-away families. 

Sea mission: Centacare’s Barry Guest who goes on board vessels as they dock at the Port of Brisbane.

“It’s a way of helping them out, by keeping them in contact with home,” Mr West said.

“If a seafarer doesn’t have the right mindset it can be very demoralising.

“If you are on board for up to nine months and start to get in a lonely place it is very hard to get out of it.”

Mr West said there were helplines on apps and websites that they encouraged sailors to use.

Captain Krylov said sailors could have many fears during their long sea journeys – not the least of which is the threat of pirates stealing on board.

“It’s a very real threat, even today,” he said.

“I’ve never seen piracy up close but we are aware of the threat. It happens quite a lot off the west coast of Africa.”

Pirates operate in the Malacca Straits between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Mr West said he appreciated the contributions of small items that some Brisbane parishes had made – he singled out the Capalaba- Alexandra Hills parish – to help the Seafarers’ mission. 

He’d like to encourage other parishes to join in.

“Right now we need clever knitters who can knit beanies,” he said. “They are a very popular item with seafarers. Even when it is warm here, it can be very cold out at sea and in another hemisphere.”

Centacare is also looking for mini-bus-driving volunteers to assist with seafarer pickups from the Port of Brisbane.

It is International Seafarers Day on June 25,  and next month marks Sea Sunday on July 14, the day when the Church sets aside to remember and pray for seafarers and their families, and give thanks for their lives and work.

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