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Seafarer pastoral workers are reaching out to crews stuck on board ships amid COVID-19

New outreach: Centacare’s Lloyd West and Barry Guest ready to deliver care packages to the gangplank. Photos: Mark Bowling

BARRY Guest places a handful of care packages at the foot of the gangplank, waves to the crew on board and retreats across the dock.

It’s a new way of outreach that Mr Guest, a seafarer pastoral worker, can offer to crews stuck on board ships and unable to come ashore because of coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Guest works for Brisbane’s Centacare Pastoral Ministries and usually boards vessels after they berth at the Port of Brisbane.

He meets the crew, offers words of encouragement and practical advice, and invites them to visit the Stella Maris Mission to Seafarers Centre in the nearby bayside suburb of Wynnum.

Ports around the world are enforcing tight new restrictions and this is having a huge impact on chaplaincy and pastoral services that are considered vital for crews accustomed to hardship at sea.

“They can’t get off the ship. They could be on those vessels for their entire six to nine month assignment,” Apostleship of the Sea – Stella Maris Centre manager Lloyd West said.

“It’s not going to do much for a sailor’s moral or mental health.”

Providing care packages is one practical way the Seafarers Centre is trying to help.

Each package contains a range of groceries – biscuits, chocolates, deodorant and combs – and more personal items such as hand-knitted beanies.

“Just letting them know that someone on the outside is thinking of them – that’s important,” Mr West said.

At the best of times, seafarers work in an industry that offers them little protection.

International seafaring contracts typically last between three and nine months, followed by unpaid time ashore.

Crew members work long hours, seven days a week.

Generous efforts: Centacare’s Barry Guest with the new care packages for seafarers.

Monthly salaries can range from as low as $800 for trainees to $2000 for junior seamen and around $20,000 for captains.

Under international maritime labour law, seafarers have a right to return home at the end of their contract at no cost to themselves.

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, US seafarer missions are trying a similar outreach approach.

“We need to continue to minister without our physical presence,” Galveston, Texas Seafarers Centre’s port chaplain Karen Parsons said.

“Developing an extensive correspondence ministry is possible. We can send care packages, write letters, and offer prayers for seafarers and their families.

“If we are deemed non-essential people for boarding ships, we can send our message with essential ones.”

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