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Meet the people who serve the forgotten front-line workers delivering your daily goods out at sea

Prayers for seafarer’s safety: Lloyd West (right) and Barry Guest in the Stella Maris chapel.

THERE were grave fears for the crew, including two Australians when a fully-laden cattle ship went down in the middle of a typhoon in the East China Sea.

On board the Gulf Livestock 1 was North Queensland veterinarian Lukas Orda, one of 43 men, and a live cargo of 5600 cattle as the vessel capsized and sank.

As prayers were offered for possible survivors, the family of a second Australian crew member William Mainprize has raised more than $140,000 for private search and rescue efforts, still holding out hope that some men may have made it to safety.

Most spare only a fleeting thought for the precarious life that seafarers sign up for.

They face danger and isolation, and are largely forgotten as they deliver 90 per cent of the products we rely on to carry out our normal lives.

Seafarers travel for months in difficult conditions – keeping supply chains going even in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions – to bring us food, clothes, medical equipment, computer hardware, farm and mining equipment, mobile phones, and many other items.

In 2020 there have been dozens of shipwrecks that went largely unreported.

This month marks the centenary of the charity Stella Maris, (also known as the Apostleship of the Sea when it was formed in Glasgow, Scotland), and recognised across the world for its support of seafarers.

The Church’s work in port ministry in Australia goes back three decades earlier.

In 1889, members of the Society of St Vincent de Paul began visiting ships in the Port of Melbourne.

Today, Stella Maris has become the largest ship-visiting network in the world, providing seafarers with practical and pastoral support, information, and a friend in times of need after many months at sea.

“What we are doing is a little bit of help and letting the seafarers know the world is still thinking about them,” Lloyd West, who co-ordinates Stella Maris activities at Wynnum near the Port of Brisbane, said.

“And they (seafarers) appreciate it.”

Even during the pandemic, the Stella Maris mission supported in Brisbane by Centacare Pastoral Ministries still manages to deliver care packages to multi-national crews and offer pastoral care if needed.

Since COVID-19 interrupted their regular, close contact with the crews, Mr West and fellow seafarer supporter Barry Guest have delivered about 600 bags containing toiletries, snacks and even knitted beanies to the gangplank of incoming ships and watch from a safe distance as the packages are taken onboard.

Mr West said seafarers received little recognition for being on the COVID-19 frontline, and were suffering enormously.

“They are no different to you or me, and they are the ones keeping everything afloat,” he said.

“Most of them sign up for a nine-month contract, and some of them are on their ship 14 months later.

“They haven’t been home.

“The only avenue to contact their family is if the ship has wifi or they can make phone calls. They can’t come off their ship.”

Marking Sea Sunday this year, the prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development Cardinal Peter Turkson wrote that “despite the fundamental role that seafarers play for the global economy”, lawmakers and governments had failed to address their needs during the crisis.

“Estimates suggest that, every month, 100,000 seafarers who finish their contracts and look forward to flying home were prevented from doing so by the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent closure of borders and flights,” he wrote.

With its centenary, the Church’s global ministry to seafarers is consolidating its operations under the one name, Stella Maris, and adopting a new logo.

Stella Maris, which translates as Star of the Sea, is the name already used for centres around the world from which pastoral care and practical support is delivered – including many Australian ports.

The new logo characterises Stella Maris’ mission.

The anchor symbolises hope, the life buoy symbolises faith, the heart symbolises charity, the rays of light symbolise the light of Christ and “the waves of the sea mark the environment for our mission – a source of livelihood for seafarers, but also a reminder of danger and death”.

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