Stella Maris International Director: Shore leave is crucial for seafarers
By Lydia O’Kane
During periods of lockdown, over the last two years, people experienced what it was like to live, at times, in confined spaces for a period of time.
But imagine being locked down in a confined space for the majority of your working life.
That’s the situation faced by seafarers who are aboard their ships for months on end without shore leave.
On Thursday, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Michael Czerny, released a message to mark Sea Sunday which is observed on 10 July.
In it, he highlighted that many seafarers are still being banned from coming ashore, despite the fact that restrictions in many countries, put in place during the pandemic, have been lifted.
Fr Bruno Ciceri is the International Director for the Stella Maris network, based at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development in Rome. He spoke to Vatican Radio about the current situation, describing it as unacceptable.
Ship to shore
“Covid-19 has created a very difficult situation because at that time the ports, they were closed, the seafarers, they could not come ashore, and also our chaplains, they could not go and do ship visiting,” he says.
“At that time, it was understandable that the national authority in the countries, the port authority, and also the ship owners would not allow the seafarers to come ashore because they were afraid people would get infected.”
But now, despite the fact that many seafarers have been vaccinated, and there are no longer restrictions, they are not allowed to come ashore.
Fr Ciceri says this is “unacceptable because this right to go ashore is embedded in the Maritime Labour Convention of 2006.”
He stresses that seafarers must be allowed to come ashore “because people cannot stay for six or nine months for the duration of their contracts or even more.”
The international director also underlines that some seafarers face discrimination when they want to go ashore.
“The European or the American, they are allowed to come ashore but if you have a different passport you have to stay on board.” He notes that these decisions are made either by the port authority, the company, or the master of the ship.
Fr Ciceri also points out that many of these people are vaccinated so there is no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to disembark.
Health of seafarers
With some seafarers not permitted to come ashore, and many on long contracts aboard ships for months on end, this can have a significant impact on their mental health.
“They go to work and they go to sleep in the same place, and they meet always the same people because the contract is nine or ten months,” says Fr Ciceri. This, he says, can result in fatigue and mental stress as they are away from their families and are not able to relax after a day’s work.
Given the challenges seafarers face on board their vessels, chaplains provide a vital role as a point of contact and a “listening ear” when they come aboard.
“The role of the chaplain is essential because we can speak to them about everything, but also especially about family problems… there might also be an issue related to their contract or a labour problem. There [can also be] acts of bullying on board the vessel so the chaplain going there is trusted,” says Fr Ciceri.
Upholding seafarers’ rights
Referencing the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC), Cardinal Czerny in his message for Sea Sunday said it requires companies to provide decent and clean accommodation, nourishing food, a safe working environment, proper hours of work, and shore leave.
However, he pointed out that sadly, “the significant gains made since MLC came into force in 2013 have been seriously undermined.”
Speaking about this issue, Fr Ciceri says, “like anywhere in the world we have good companies and bad companies.” Some companies, he comments, take good care of their crew providing amenities on board, while others do not care about their employees.
The Stella Maris international director also points out that many of these big shipping companies make huge profits but unfortunately they are not shared with seafarers or “used to improve welfare facilities that are in the ports.”
It’s estimated that 90% of the goods we consume are delivered to us courtesy of ships but more often than not, the people who transport these goods go unseen.
As Cardinal Czerny pointed out in his message, they are “seen as invisible, but they are there," not only “keeping the world economy moving but also directly impacting upon the daily life of every one of us.”
Fr Ciceri says “we take for granted that things arrive, but where do they arrive? How do they arrive?”
As Christian communities mark Sea Sunday on July 10, he says it is important to give thanks and pray for all the work seafarers do to provide people with the goods that make their lives more comfortable.