The Mission to Seafarers (MtS) has launched a new flagship campaign to address the severe welfare issues facing seafarers worldwide in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Flying Angel campaign is a top priority for the organisation as crews remain trapped on vessels owing to travel restrictions, subject to quarantine upon returning home, and unable to contact loved ones.
The mission has targeted a funding total of £600,000 (about $752,000) to deliver this programme, which is expected to have significant benefits to the entire industry.
The organisation has been assessing the needs of seafarers through the Seafarers Happiness Index, and the use of its recently launched digital support system ‘Chat to a Chaplain’.
Although circumstances are evolving with some crew changes possible, it is clear that seafarers are still suffering, and their mental health and wellbeing will continue to be significantly impacted in the long term, according to the organisation. In response, the mission will be focusing on two main strands to offer support — resilience in ports and technological innovations to improve connectivity.
To improve the mission’s ability to ensure continuity of care, the Flying Angel programme will provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for all port teams to ensure frontline teams are protected.
Additionally, to safely transport coronavirus-free seafarers and to keep them safe and healthy, vehicles will be adapted, including screens between the driver and passengers, plus provision of sanitisers and antiseptics. This has already been undertaken in Manila where the mission has been called upon by the government to transport seafarers to and from their homes.
The most urgent need is to prepare seafarer centres to receive seafarers in a safe and COVID-19 clear environment. This means that each of the 121 Flying Angel centres needs to have a deep clean before opening, as well as screens fitted to protect staff and seafarers, the mission said.
Advocacy will also form part of the Flying Angel programme. Since COVID-19, the charity has been working in partnership, to make the case for seafarers across the world, with those that can make a difference both internationally and locally. In particular, the mission has focused on recognition for seafarers as essential workers, the facilitation of crew change and proper protection for safety and well-being.
While this work continues, it is also vital that the mission advocates for the recognition of its own frontline teams as essential workers, the organization pointed out. Port chaplains need to be able to access and operate effectively in the ports where their work is so acutely needed.
Amongst recent cases have been more than 100 seafarers stranded in the UK, unable to get home to India when the borders closed. Each case needed to be reviewed and assessed before emergency payments could be made, and negotiations started with the Foreign Office. This core work is vitally important part of the mission’s response to the most urgent and distressing of seafarers’ needs and requires patience, compassion and due diligence to ensure the most appropriate response, the organization added.
As shore leave becomes more difficult and welfare access to ships restricted owing to COVID-19, the mission expressed fears that seafarers’ worries and anxieties have become heightened during this crisis.
It is already been proven that technology can significantly improve seafarer wellbeing, particularly with the uptake in the use of the digital chaplaincy service, which is available to seafarers 24/7, and has been sponsored by Seafarers UK and the Marine Society for the first six months.
The mission said it will build on this work and create a digital welfare hub for seafarers and their families, ensuring its service users have access to wellbeing resources, its chaplaincy services and provide a place where seafarers can make their voices heard.
However, the mission also recognises that many seafarers are still without access to internet on board ships, hugely impacting their ability to utilise its services, or contact loved ones at home while isolated at sea or quarantined on vessels.
The mission is still visiting ships in some parts of the world but these are limited to the top of a ship’s gangway and the organisation aims to open up communications by providing more mobile Mifi units, as part of the Flying Angel programme. Chaplains will ‘lend’ the units to ships arriving in port to create local wifi networks.
“We have seen a huge increase in the need to support seafarers during the COVID-19 pandemic and this unprecedented challenge requires an unprecedented response. As we emerge from the initial lockdown period into a somewhat changed world, we need to address a range of very important priorities. These are vital if we are going to be in the very best position to address the needs of seafarers and their families,” MtS Secretary-General, Revd Canon Andrew Wright, said.
“To that end, we have launched our Flying Angel campaign to ensure our international key workers have support, guidance and connectivity during an extremely isolating and challenging time. We have huge appreciation for the work that our seafarers do and we really hope this new programme of change will benefit those who need it most.”