28 May 2024

Volunteers needed for seafarers’ support services

Mission to Seafarers workers prepare to pick up seafarers. Picture: Elspeth Kernebone.

Jenan Taylor

5 July 2023

A seafarer-support charity is calling for more volunteers as demand for services increases from maritime workers docked in Melbourne’s ports.

Mission to Seafarers’ Melbourne centre supports seafarers through hospitality, a ship visiting program, and shuttle buses to facilitate the workers’ shore leave. About 60,000 visit Melbourne each year. 

But mission workers say it will be impossible to visit all the ships they want to without more volunteers.

Mission chief executive Neil James said the centre needed more volunteers, as many had fallen away during COVID-19 restrictions. Mr James said the mission relied on volunteers to meet the increased demands of seafarers in an affordable way.

He said workers on ships faced a great deal of hardship everyday, while performing an essential role in supplying Australians with 90 per cent of their personal, medical and household needs.

Mr James said these included low pay, heavy workloads, more than nine month-periods away from their families, and limited shore leave. They also faced dangerous working conditions, including extreme weather and the risk of attack from pirates.

Read more: Storms put seafarers’ support centre out of action

He said that led to significant mental health and welfare issues for many seafarers.

But the COVID pandemic exacerbated the workers’ vulnerabilities because most were unable to leave their ships, for more than a year in some instances, Mr James said.

He said it also affected the mission’s ability to help them, because its volunteers fell away, and few if any seafarers were able to use the Melbourne centre during that period.

Mr James said the centre’s shuttle bus services reduced to zero, and the ship visiting team went from a handful of volunteers and pastoral workers to a full-time and a part-time chaplain only.

The Mission to Seafarers Victoria chaplain the Reverend Onofre Punay provides support to seafarers.

But now the pandemic restrictions had lifted, the mission needed about 30 volunteers to help cover the mission’s programs, he said.

Mr James said the seafarers’ appetite for shore leave and for engaging with people had increased since they were able to leave their ships again.

He said the Melbourne mission’s bus services were now averaging 20 trips a day and the centre was being used by about 35 workers daily.

Every day its chaplains received calls from four to five ships for in-person support for workers unable to get to shore, Mr James said.

Anglican chaplain the Reverend Onofre Punay said it was impossible to get around to all the ships they needed or wanted to see without more volunteers.

“If there are 157 ships a month coming to Melbourne, we’d probably only be able to visit 57,” Mr Punay said.

Read more: Tamara’s mission: to answer God’s call on a floating hospital

He said some visits could take two hours, and accessing ship boarding permission or transport to ships could be tricky, because of the highly regulated environment in the port.

Mr Punay said although most seafarers in Melbourne were from the Philippines, more international crews including those from Burma were also passing through.

He said that increased the need for translation services, particularly in cases where a crew member was unwell or injured and needed further assistance.

Mr James said he hoped Anglicans would consider donating on Sea Sunday, 9 July, to help support seafarers, but he also hoped they would reach out to volunteer.

For more information, please email seasunday@missiontoseafarers.com.au.

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