Serving as beacon of hope to seafarers

Working at sea is rough and unpredictable. The Mission to Seafarers Singapore (MtSS), part of the Mission to Seafarers with presence at over 200 ports worldwide, positions itself as the foghorn and beacon of help for the 1.5 million seafarers who face daily danger to keep the global economy afloat. 

At best, seafarers’ plights go unspoken. At worst, they go unknown. Captain Rob Walker, chairman of MtSS, takes time to talk to Maritime Fairtrade on the multiple ways they serve and look out for seafarers. 

Captain Rob Walker, chairman, Mission to Seafarers Singapore. Photo credit: Captain Rob Walker

Please tell us more about the programs that help seafarers. 

Funds are crucial for MtSS to operate and deliver multiple essential services, ensuring that seafarers receive the care and support they need to lead safer, healthier, and more connected lives while working at sea. Our comprehensive approach helps address the multifaceted challenges that seafarers face in their demanding profession.

Firstly, funds are allocated to programs and services that focus on the mental and emotional wellbeing of seafarers. These may include training staff members on how to provide counselling, advise during stress-management crises, and executing mental health awareness campaigns. We believe continuous learning will enhance and keep their skills and knowledge up to date. 

The organization may also offer emotional support and guidance to seafarers dealing with the emotional challenges of being separated from their loved ones for extended periods.

Secondly, MtSS provides communication facilities such as internet access in our centers and brings portable routers on board ships to help seafarers stay connected with their families while at sea. Though some vessels may be wired with internet, each crew is only offered a limited bandwidth. Our offer for free WIFI connectivity is always warmly welcomed by the crew.

Thirdly, the Mission is well-connected with maritime industry leaders which is helpful for advocating justice and welfare for desperate crew members. Should there be abuse or ill-treatment cases, disputes with employers or issues related to contracts and working conditions on board, relevant authorities will be alerted to investigate and take further action. 

In addition, funds are allocated to establish medical facilities for the crew who need to replenish their medication but are not able to physically visit a doctor due to their heavy workload. Through this, they have access to a doctor via tele-consultation. The physician will then prescribe the needed medicine and have them delivered on board.

Fifthly, donations are used to provide free transportation for crew members going for their shore-leave in the city. 

Lastly, MtSS has chaplains on hand to provide spiritual support, counselling, and religious services to seafarers, respecting their diverse beliefs and faiths. There are worship and meditation spaces at the seafarer centers at Jurong Port to cater to these needs. 

Which areas of development are important to seafarers and why?

A quarterly survey known as the Seafarers Happiness Index has been carried out for the past few years to ascertain their level of satisfaction at sea. Through the survey, we found that seafarers are increasingly recognizing the importance of preparing themselves for the decarbonization in the maritime industry. Decarbonization efforts aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and minimize the environmental impact of shipping operations. 

The reason for this need is that environmental awareness has been raised significantly in recent years. Seafarers have been educating themselves about the environmental challenges in the maritime industry, such as emissions reduction targets, alternative fuels, and energy-efficient technologies. They are also keeping themselves informed about regulations and industry trends.

Some have even gone a step further to attend training programs and earn certifications related to green technologies and practices. Training in energy-efficient ship operations, renewable energy systems, and emissions reduction measures is valuable. 

As the industry explores alternative fuels like LNG (liquefied natural gas), hydrogen, and ammonia, seafarers are encouraged to acquire knowledge and experience in handling and operating vessels with these fuels safely.

What are new trends seafarers should be aware of?

The trend to develop skills in energy management – to optimize shipboard systems for fuel efficiency – is relatively new. Therefore, we foresee it will remain for the next two years. This includes understanding the use of energy-efficient equipment and technologies.

Established shipping companies are working towards integrating profit generation with ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) and sustainable practices onboard, such as minimizing energy consumption, reducing waste, and adhering to best practices for environmental stewardship. This will in some ways comply with the regulatory requirement stipulated by international and national regulations related to emissions control and environmental protection. 

What are some instances where a seafarer needed urgent assistance? 

A chief cook from one of the bulk carriers, who ran out of his hyper-tension medication, reached out to MtSS. He was due to sign off after his usual six-month contract. 

However, his replacement was not able to sign on for some reasons and delayed the crew change. That caught him by surprise and left him with insufficient medication to last until his replacement came. MtSS arranged a tele-consult for him with a doctor and sorted out the issue so he could carry on with his duties. 

What drives you to serve seafarers?

As a charity organization, we hold dearly our mission statement: to care for seafarers around the world, regardless of race, nationality or religion. Seafarers, like all workers, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. 

When seafarers find themselves in desperate situations, it is a violation of their basic human rights. Championing for their well-being is a fundamental way to uphold human rights principles. 

The maritime profession is known for its isolation, long periods away from family and loved ones, and demanding work conditions. Seafarers facing desperate situations often experience mental and emotional distress. Advocating for their rights and welfare is essential to support their holistic well-being.

The plights and life of a seafarer are commonly unknown. How can awareness be raise? 

MtSS has partnerships with maritime industry leaders such as the Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore, port operators, and seafarers’ unions. Collectively, we have been reaching out to the general public to raise awareness about the plight of seafarers. Chaplains of MtSS have also been sharing about the challenges seafarers face in many churches with members who otherwise would have been oblivious to the seafaring vocation.

Photo credit: iStock/ChrisBoswell

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