Since it began in Glasgow Harbor just over a hundred years ago, Stella Maris has become a lifeline for seafarers around the world. Now it is trying to set up a team of volunteer ship visitors in Greenland.
David Noval, a permanent deacon who became Stella Maris’ first-ever national director in Denmark last year, plans to spend three weeks in Greenland in May. “There are many Filipinos in Greenland. Most work in the fish factories and others on big ships,” he explained.
Fishing and fish processing are the main industries on Greenland, the world’s largest island with a population of just 56,000. It’s no surprise that Filipinos work in the fishing industry, given that about a third of the world’s maritime sector workforce is from the Philippines. Most leave their homes to earn enough money to support their families.
David said he also hopes to expand Stella Maris’ work to other Nordic countries. “Last summer I visited the Faroe Islands and will be traveling there this spring for a follow-up visit. I was asked to travel to Sweden and Finland to speak about the work of Stella Maris and to discuss setting up ship visit teams there.”
He and volunteers have already started visiting ships in the Danish ports of Aarhus, Koege, Vordingborg and Nakskov, and they plan to visit other ports this year, including Copenhagen and Odense. With a merchant fleet of 65 million gross tons, Denmark is the fifth largest seafaring nation in the world. The country has more than 400 islands and a total coastline of over 7,000 km. Up to 75 percent of all imports to Denmark come by sea.
“Arrangements have been made with several ports and we have trained a number of ship visitors,” he said. “Stella Maris is well known in the maritime industry in Denmark. In Fredericia we have volunteers serving hot meals from a food truck to seafarers on cruise ships.
“I am very happy and grateful to have received this assignment from Stella Maris. It is an amazing mission that I am in awe of. The last time Stella Maris operated in Denmark was in the 1960s and she was headed by the priest who baptized me in 1970.”
David wants to offer seafarers in the Nordic countries the kind of practical help and pastoral care that Stella Maris offers elsewhere in the world, for example in Kenya. Since before Christmas, Stella Maris has been supporting the crew members of the fishing vessel Ra-Horakhty, which was abandoned in Mombasa after its owners failed to provide them with supplies.
Margaret Masibo, Director of Stella Maris Mombasa Kenya, said: “We were informed of the dire situation of the crew by the International Transport Workers Federation inspector based here, so we visited the ship to assess the situation and see how we were doing on best can help. We invited other local seafarers’ groups to join us in our response. We had a long chat with the ship’s captain who said he and his crew were distraught, frustrated, hungry and exhausted.”
Stella Maris has been in touch with the crew and provided food donated by Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde of Mombasa.
This case illustrates a broader problem of abandonment of seafarers and fishermen.
During the pandemic, face-to-face contact with seafarers at the Port of Stella Maris has been limited, but social media has helped them support seafarers in new ways, Margaret said. “Social media has been vital to our interactions with seafarers. Through platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook we can communicate with them and get constant updates about their situation, both for local and international seafarers.
“Social media is also a platform we have used to raise awareness of the life and suffering of seafarers, as in the case of those on Ra-Horakhty. We were also able to use them to communicate with Stella Maris port chaplains in other countries and refer seafarers to them if necessary.”
From its beginnings in Glasgow in 1920, Stella Maris has grown and today has over 200 chaplains and more than 700 volunteer ship visitors supporting seafarers and fishermen in ports in more than 50 countries around the world. It is the largest ship visit network and its network of chaplains and volunteers conduct more than 70,000 ship visits in a typical year.
Stella Maris International Network Director Fr. Bruno Ciceri, who lives at the Vatican, explained that Stella Maris has not only supported seafarers but also some of their families during the pandemic.
“Because of the pandemic, some seafarers were abruptly left unemployed and without a source of income,” he said. “Thanks to the generous support of individuals, charities and the Stella Maris network of chaplains and volunteers, we have been able to distribute a large number of emergency food packages in India and the Philippines.
“The pandemic has certainly changed the world and, moreover, transformed the maritime industry, and these changes will also affect our future service. It is necessary that in the near future Stella Maris should not only rely on volunteers, but should be able to attract people who see the ministry we carry out as a challenging profession in which to invest their lives.”
Stella Maris (formerly known as Apostleship of the Sea) is a UK registered charity. She depends on voluntary donations, grants and legacies to continue her work.
90% of world trade is transported by ship. However, the life of a seafarer can be dangerous and lonely. They can be away from home for up to a year at a time, separated from their families and loved ones, and often working in harsh conditions.
Stella Maris chaplains and ship visitors offer pastoral and practical support, information and a listening ear to seafarers and fishermen.
Stella Maris www.stellamaris.org.uk
tags: Stella Maris, Apostleship of the Sea, Greenland
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