Here’s a clip of maritime journalist Michael Grey talking to our sea chaplain, the Revd Colin Still, about his work on board Balmoral as part of the BBC TWO series The Cruise: Life at Sea.
Here’s a clip of me talking to Tracey Clarke about Sea Sunday on BBC Radio South.
On the road: reflections
Amongst many challenges that lie ahead are issues we see all over the world - the need to adjust to changing shipping patterns and ever-reducing stays in port, the necessity to attract new and younger volunteers, occasional frustrations in relation to partnerships with other organisations and the difficulties in raising funds. Several new ports, many of them in very remote places, have also been identified as places when our ministry is urgently needed. Many of these ports are in areas where there is very little in the way of community or facility , making the need for chaplaincy support even more important. Unfortunately the sheer remoteness of these places makes it even harder to find ways of meeting the challenge and this is a concern. Clearly however the Mission to Seafarers in Australia is in very good heart. I am here partly to explore how the various parts of the Mission can best work together and how we can support one another in effective practical ways. These days have given me much pause for thought.
On the road: Australia
Blown in ahead of schedule by a tail wind of unusual strength we were the first arrival of the day into Sydney airport where I was met by the Mission to Seafarers local chaplain, Ian Porter. The Sydney Mission have recently moved into a new building very close to two iconic landmarks, Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Supported by the usual efficient , free transport service seafarers love coming to a Mission in the heart of this famous city. Open seven days a week and manned by a substantial a team of workers there were plenty of seafarers in evidence on the day I was there. The building ought to win some kind of award. It is a historic building, an old harbour warehouse with attractive brick walls and wooden pillars. However, its conversion is very appropriate and fit for purpose with much glass used and the space well designed for seafarer use. I do not know if seafarers appreciate this balance between history and modernity. However as someone who has come to appreciate the “spirit-feeding” nature of fine buildings this one goes beyond the functional and gives value-added in terms of welfare provision!
The harbour in Sydney is rapidly changing and is spread out over a significant area, posing challenges to the Mission, both in terms of the provision of transport and in relation to the challenges of ship visiting. However, there is strong local support within Sydney and this enables a significant team to be retained. I was left in no doubt of their dedication and that of the local committee.
On the following day I travelled north to Newcastle, the world’s largest coal port. I was given a tour of this extensive harbour in one of the pilot launches. The coal export business is thriving and the operation is clearly very fast, slick and strong. The coal ships are of enormous size and there are clear challenges in bringing these ships in and out of the port’s narrow approach, involving as It does tight turns in conditions that are often effected by high swells. But coal is by no means the exclusive cargo here. Many other bulk cargoes are dealt with, along with a range of fuels and other products. In addition there are some cruise ship calls. Again, it was clear that the team here, under the leadership of a new young chaplain is dynamic and highly motivated. There is a fast growing and dynamic bunch of volunteers. They have taken back the space in the old 1943 Mission that has for many years been let to other users. Again this is a very interesting and hugely attractive building with its very unusual circular main room, complete with high quality dance floor. One can easily imagine the parties held here in those long off days when crews were much larger and would often stay in port for so much longer. Once again, however, this building has been turned into something which is highly fit-for-purpose for the modern seafarer. Supported by ship visiting, a dedicated transport system (itself guided by very advanced and impressive electronic tracking systems which maximise efficiency) , and by the assurance of a warm welcome, seafarers are returning to the centre in large numbers.
These two visits were a prelude to my travels north where I joined the Australian chaplains and many of their volunteers at a conference in tropical Townsville. Australia is one of the independent regions within the Mission to Seafarers family, guided by its regional council and its two liaison bishops. All of the ports, and there are 28 current centres, have to be self-sustaining, an enormous challenge. There is here, despite the independence of each centre, a strong sense of common bond both within Australia and in relation to the wider Mission to Seafarers family which I represent. I have been hugely impressed with the levels of energy, engagement and passion for the work. There is here a tangible sense of deep appreciation of, and compassion for, seafarers. The centre buildings are, as in the rest of the world, extremely diverse, ranging from large edifices to small mobile units. All chaplains ensure that seafarers arriving in any port can expect the same warm welcome at the sign of the “flying angel” that they can all around the world, together with the ability to address, practical, emotional and spiritual need. However, there is also here a healthy diversity of personalities and approaches which makes for some lively debates in and out of conference sessions! During one meeting the local chaplain here was called out following an incident in which one 22 year old seafarer fell 9 metres within a ship. Thankfully, we have heard the good news that he has broken bones and a punctured lung but he will recover. He is likely to be here for some time and the chaplains will provide all the support he needs. Once again a reminder of the dangers facing seafarers and of the crucial part chaplains have to play in response.
On the road: Singapore
Passing through Singapore en route to Australia I was able to meet our excellent chaplaincy team together with the local Mission chairman, members of the committee and senior representatives of the church. I was also able to see something of this enormous harbour, one I was told that has around 1400 ship movements daily - incredible. Our team there maintains an active centre and undertakes significant amounts of ship visiting. I was impressed with the high level of engagement. With such a heavy workload in this vast port the work we do, supported by teams from other Mission agencies, only touches the surface. We need to think creatively about how we might plan for the future. Our plans will include strengthening the chaplaincy team during next year. That team clearly enjoys strong and active support from chairman and committee and this makes a huge difference. Without such local support chaplains can feel very isolated. With Singapore being not just one of the world’s biggest harbours but also a major hub for shipping related companies and institutions I will no doubt be visiting here many times in the coming years. I will be working with colleagues to raise our profile here and to encourage generosity in local support not only for our Singapore Chaplains but also for our wider commitment to provide an effective and cutting edge service for seafarers, especially in Asia.
Making ends meet
An all-day strategy meeting with my fellow Directors together with one of the Trustees.
We looked at a number of key areas and made some important decisions which we hope will help us better support our chaplains and ensure our work is effective, even in the remotest ports.
We are all determined that these vital meetings will not just be talking shops but will result in concrete decisions, with measurable time frames, which will have very positive consequences for the well-being of seafarers.