Looking after seafarers through storms and heavy weather

When port chaplain Colum Kelly arrived at the Port of Immingham the morning after last December’s North Sea storm surge, he found a scene of mud, filth and devastation at the Seafarers’ Centre.

This small but incredibly important building, located in one of the port’s lowest-lying areas, had been totally overwhelmed by the tidal surge. Thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused – everything from computers and furniture to the chapel and the vehicles used to bring seafarers ashore was wrecked.

“The place was destroyed – but not only that, it was as if all of the joy and the happiness that the building had seen over the years had been completely washed away by the flood waters,” said Father Kelly.

The centre, run jointly by the Apostleship of the Sea and the Mission to Seafarers, provides chaplaincy services and recreational facilities to visiting crews and is a vital lifeline for seafarers, many of whom may have been at sea for months without any contact with family or friends.

It offers free wi-fi and IT facilities, a shop, games rooms and relaxation areas, and a chapel for quiet reflection. The chaplains also visit ships berthed at the port and often take seafarers on visits; they can also provide clothing and food for those in need.

After the flood, the centre was forced to close for nine months – the first four months were needed just to dry out the building before any repairs and refurbishment could be started.

But the mission continued – it became a mobile mission, using a minibus that visited the ships, filled with computers and mobile internet connection devices, chocolate and phone cards, and other necessities.

Now, at last, the Seafarers Centre has been reopened and, as Kelly said: “The seafarers themselves say this is now the finest seafarers’ centre they know!”

That is because when the destruction of the centre made the news, local organisations and groups quickly responded, raising funds to help a facility that many probably never even knew existed before that terrible night.

The new centre features a café bar, wi-fi communication throughout, large TV screens and a games room.

“People don’t realise how utterly dependent we are on seafarers,” said Father Kelly. “People don’t understand that more than 90% of our imports come to us by sea, and few people know anything about the lives of these seafarers who bring the stuff.

“Places like our centre are vital for the seafarers. They really depend on it; they know they can come in and get support, contact their families and not be ripped off.”

ABP’s Humber port director John Fitzgerald said: “The destruction of the centre felt like the soul of the port had been broken. It provides an extraordinary service for these unsung heroes but, as Colum and his team have demonstrated, out of the ashes opportunities arise, and this new and improved centre offers even better facilities for visiting crews.”

Father Kelly added: “When we decided to rebuild, we were given the chance to make the centre even better than it was before – in fact, we saw as our duty to do that.

“The staff here and many other businesses and individuals, including ABP, made sure that was possible, and the opening was full of exhilaration and joy. The UK’s number one port now has the UK’s number one seafarers’ centre.”
Source: Seatrade Global

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