By Ekaterina Ustinovskaya
SeafarerHelp team members regularly visit ships in different UK ports as a part of their job and training. Meeting seafarers face-to-face and talking to them directly is a very special opportunity for us as they normally contact SeafarerHelp by e-mail, live chat, Facebook, WhatsApp, telephone, SMS text or Skype.
Here is the story of one of our recent port visits. SeafarerHelp helpline workers Karin (Spanish and Italian speaker) and Ekaterina (Russian speaker) visited three ro-ro ferries in one day at Southampton port.
It is early morning and Peter Morgan, Apostleship of the Sea chaplain, picks us up at Southampton Central station. He is ready to drive us to the port, explaining that early morning is the busiest time of day in the port and it is the best time to catch more ships. We are very interested; we know what to expect, but at the same time, we don’t know whom we are going to meet and what we are going to see. Peter checks a marine traffic website to see what ships are expected in the port today, time of arrival, the duration of stay, etc. Southampton is one of the busiest and largest ro-ro ports in the UK.
On the first ship, we pass the security and squeeze into a small lift, which takes us into the recreation area. The atmosphere here is rather quiet and relaxing. One seafarer is wandering around in comfortable clothes; he is off duty. He is stopping to look at souvenirs at the mobile gift shop. There is a choice of sweatshirts, keyrings and T-shirts, all with symbols of Great Britain. We notice two messmen taking big sacks of rubbish downstairs. They come back after five minutes and have a quick chat and a photo with us before we leave to go to the next ship.
On the next ship, we meet ten of the crew, different ranks from kitchen assistant to chief engineer, all gathered at the mess room table. It looks like we arrived at the right time; the seafarers are having a break and seem to be happy to see us. They enjoy the company of each other and are making jokes and laughing. As we chat to the crew we are not surprised to find that they are all from the Philippines. We explain to them what we do at SeafarerHelp, that we work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and that we are there to try to help them with any problem that they might have.
Off to the last ship of the day. And it is a ro-ro ferry again! We are a bit early. We have to wait until the ship is safely moored.
The operation is over in minutes and we walk up the gangway where we get our visitors’ passes. Stevedores come on the ship and quickly leave, driving brand new cars and vans off to the parking area.
In the lounge we are greeted by kitchen staff. They are getting ready for their shore leave. They want to see the city and do a bit of shopping. Peter offers to give them a lift to the city centre later. We again explain to the seafarers what we do at SeafarerHelp and that visiting ships like we are today is part of our training.
We feel lucky to meet the captain himself. He is from Bulgaria and happy to have a brief chat; amongst other things he tells us that the ‘Sea is a dangerous environment. Being a seafarer is a very tough job. We miss our beds when we are away from home!’ We understand and explain that is why SeafarerHelp exists to support seafarers by trying to resolve any problems they may have as well as helping with emotional issues.
It has been good to meet the seafarers and to talk to them face-to-face. We know that a seafarer’s job is not an easy one and that it is far from the romantic image that many people may have. We understand that being away from home for long periods, quick turnarounds in port and the consequent lack of shore leave, family issues and employment contract problems can all put seafarers under pressure and that is why SeafarerHelp exists to help and support them.
We would like to say a special thank you to Peter Morgan, Apostleship of the Sea chaplain, for taking us around the port and for his assistance during the day.