Many of us stop to look at the ships as they enter or depart our harbours, but it is easy for us to overlook the ‘invisible’ human beings who form the heart of all seafaring. People are often surprised to learn that over 1,500,000 seafarers are at sea at any one time. Many come from countries where there is little authentic Christian witness. Missions describe seafarers as an ‘unreached people group’ because of their isolation during their time at sea.
It is easy to think of a life at sea as a romantic adventure. However, the reality is often very different, for many seafarers are separated from loved ones for months, even years, at a time. Greater efficiency in cargo handling techniques means that a ship’s time in port is quite short – sometimes only hours – and this, combined with new security measures, can mean some seafarers are rarely able to come ashore.
Seafarers from developing lands are especially vulnerable to exploitation by some unscrupulous ship owners, who know that the competition for a job at sea means that many seafarers will endure gross injustices to keep their jobs. Such owners will ‘blackmail’ seafarers by threatening them with dismissal if they complain about inadequate safety standards, reductions in or non-payment of wages, or anything else.
An approach to a Union official may see that seafarer removed from his ship and sent home – never to work at sea again.
Because we are apolitical, and because of our reputation, the Mission to Seafarers is often able to intervene where others cannot, to the great benefit of all seafarers.
Even when the crew are well-cared for by responsible captains and owners, the Mission provides a unique opportunity for seafarers to enjoy the blessings of Christian ministry in a positive environment away from the confines of their ship. Each year about 10,000 seafarers come to our Sydney Centre, and many more are ministered to on board by our chaplains.