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Seafarers are unsung heroes of the global economy

Julian Wong, who has recently been appointed as the Stella Maris port chaplain for Felixstowe and the Haven ports, writes about Sea Sunday.


July 12 would usually have been Sea Sunday but this year, because of the pandemic, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales was unsure when churches would be reopened for Mass, so it was moved to December.

However, it would still be appropriate to say something about the work of seafarers. They are responsible for transporting 90% of global trade and on the front line of maintaining the world’s supply of food, fuel and medical stocks and equipment throughout the  pandemic.

The lockdown is being eased in many countries but thousands of seafarers are still stranded aboard ships due to border closures across the world. Thousands more are unable to rejoin their ships and earn a living.

Do we ever really stop and think about the importance of what they do? Look around you, your home, the shelves in the superstores; 90% of everything we use comes to this country by ship.

Seafarers have demonstrated their dedication, professionalism and resilience as they have been unable to change crews or enjoy shore leave. In normal times seafarers spend up to nine months of each year away from their families and loved ones, missing out on seeing their children growing up and hugging and comforting them when they are sick. Travel restrictions mean that many crews have been aboard their vessels for longer than the legal limit of 11 months.

Seafarers’ work is physically and mentally demanding, lonely and remote and this year they have to cope with the unprecedented situation of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even in good times, seafarers are the unsung heroes of the global economy. They are invisible to the ordinary member of the public because nobody sees or talks about them.

We go to the viewing point in Felixstowe to watch huge ships arriving with a load of containers but the crew is typically made up of only 24 seafarers, including the master of the ship. Their work is 24/7 with rest periods in between — and now with no shore leave, they spend every minute on board. In some cases, the ship can feel like a prison.
It is easy to forget all those men and women who helped to get all the things we need to us. They deserve our appreciation, our prayers and our support.

Port chaplains from Stella Maris, formally known as Our Lady of the Sea and previously known as Apostleship of the Sea, provides seafarers with practical help and pastoral care.

For example, one seafarer asked for help because his supply of medicine was getting low and looked set to run out before he could get home. He managed to get his wife to post more medicine to his cousin who was working in London. The cousin posted it to me so I could deliver the medicine to the seafarer, at the bottom of the gangway on the ship’s arrival in Felixstowe.

For others who have contacted me before they arrived in Felixstowe, I have managed to deliver shopping, such as Polish sausages, and supplied mobile-phone Sim cards which are vital for maintaining contacts with families back home. I have delivered welfare packages which contained Stella Maris resources such as prayer cards, magazines, rosaries, woolly hats, toiletries, sweets and chocolates which hopefully, will nourish them in more ways than one.

So, let’s keep them in our prayers.

Please also support Stella Maris which has 18 port chaplains in Great Britain visiting ships in more than 60 ports. Around the world, there are more than 230 of the organisation’s port chaplains and over 750 volunteer ship visitors at more than 300 ports in 41 countries.

Please support your church’s Sea Sunday appeal and make a difference to the lives of seafarers and their families. Let them know that they are not forgotten. If you would like to be a Stella Maris volunteer ship visitor or a parish contact, please contact me for a chat.


Julian is the Stella Maris regional port chaplain for Felixstowe and the Haven ports. His email is julian.wong@stellamarismail.org and mobile number is 07758 356372

Pictured above is Port Chaplain Julian Wong after holding a Eucharistic Service on board a vessel at Felixstowe port in January 2020.

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