Interview with Mission to Seafarers Brisbane: Seafarer Centre of the Year 2018

October 17, 2018
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Our International Seafarers’ Welfare Awards give seafarers the chance to say thank you to the companies and organisations who have offered them high quality welfare services and facilities.

In a series of interviews this month, we’re talking to the winners of 2018’s awards, which were presented at our ceremony in Geneva back in April. This week, we’re talking to Dave Ellis, Chairman/President of the Mission to Seafarers Brisbane, which won 2018’s Seafarer Centre of the Year award.

Tell us a bit about yourself and the seafarers’ centre you represent.

My name is Dave Ellis and I have been involved with Mission to Seafarers Brisbane for twenty years now, both volunteering on committee and on roster at the Flying Angel seafarer centre within the port of Brisbane, Australia. For the last ten years I have been Chairman/President of the Mission, retiring this year. Our committee has worked hard to improve both the seafarer centre for the benefit of seafarers and volunteers and to place the Mission in a favourable financial and welfare delivery position for the future.

The Mission Seafarers Centre is centrally located within the Port of Brisbane Fisherman Island port precinct. It is within 15 minutes’ drive of all the southern riverside berths, and approximately 30 minutes’ drive from the northern side berths. The Mission has a long term lease on the premises with Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd to ensure its presence within the port.

The Mission is in its 126th year of seafarer welfare and pastoral support in the port of Brisbane and is one of the oldest continuously operating volunteer organisations in Queensland, Australia. Our seafarer centre is open 12 hours a day, 365 days of the year for the benefit of visiting seafarers.

In recent years the Brisbane Mission Seafarers centre has welcomed around 12,000 seafarers. In 2017 this increased to 13,500 seafarer visits which shows that there is an important and ongoing need to provide seafarer welfare centres in ports around the world, providing up to date facilities and support services to meet the needs of today’s seafarer.

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What welfare services and facilities does the Mission to Seafarers Brisbane provide for visiting seafarers?

The Brisbane seafarer centre provides a broad range of facilities and services to suit the needs of today’s seafarers who operate on shipping with reduced crew size and short turnaround times.

The Centre is housed in a purpose-built facility of approximately 1,000 square metres. The fully air-conditioned centre aims to provide a pleasant and welcoming club like atmosphere for the visiting seafarers, and a place where they can spend some quiet time, watch TV, play pool or table tennis, use the internet, shop for basic needs, and enjoy the gardens, bar area and fellowship with others. The centre also has a chapel that visitors can use for reflection and worship. Additionally, there are areas for the Centre and Committee offices, meeting rooms, storage, a ship visitor office and a day sleeping room.

The centre offers a free on-demand bus service to collect and return seafarers which maximises their time ashore and at the centre. We provide a range of free services such as hot drinks, knitted beanies, second hand clothing, books and magazines, DVDs and CDs.

Our pastoral and welfare care service outreach is provided by the seafarer centre volunteers, Chaplains, ISWAN certified ship visitors and specially trained volunteers in pastoral care and critical incident first response.

We now have two Honorary Anglican ordained and licensed Chaplains and this has expanded our ability to provide spiritual support to seafarers as needed, including a weekly service at the centre on Sundays.

The Mission works collaboratively with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Fair Work Australia and the ITF to address Seafarers concerns over working conditions. We do not get directly involved in the issue and at the seafarer’s request pass the matter of concern to the relevant party for their investigation and consideration.

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What do seafarers value the most about your centre when they visit?

The most valued services are the bus transport to and from the ship and to a local shopping centre and the free clothing and beanies.

Our mini-buses clock up some 80,000 km a year driving around the port for seafarers, all using volunteer drivers who do their best to maximise seafarer time ashore. Visiting the local shopping centre provides access to a broad range of shopping experiences and offers the seafarer a much needed change of scenery away from the ship and port environment.

The Mission receives in, processes and gives away some 3 to 4 cubic metres of clothing each month plus around 4,000 knitted beanies a year. The clothing is sought after by seafarers, many of whom have little clothing with them whilst onboard their ship. The clothing ranges from T-shirts to business suits. Clothing can be new or in near-new condition and will be worn as dress clothingwhilst other clothing becomes work wear on deck or in the engine-room. Cold weather clothing is always in great demand and we have provided full ship crews with warm clothing for their next port in minus temperature conditions. The Mission makes up special clothing bags of women’s and children’s clothing for the Pacific Island seafarers who take the clothing back to their communities.

The seafarer centre has a modern feel with leather seats and couches, bright colours and space. Seafarers comment favourably on this and are thankful for the effort we have put in to ensure they arrive into a pleasant and welcoming environment solely for their use and benefit.

The day sleeping room is much appreciated by seafarers waiting to join their ship later in the day or evening. It provides an opportunity to get good rest before joining their ship and perhaps going directly on watch for cargo work or sailing. We even have seafarers visiting from their ship getting a few hours much needed sleep away from the disturbances, noise and vibration of the ship.

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Our judges were impressed by your innovative collaborations with local universities. Tell us more about the work you do with the university students.

Our Mission is constantly striving to best meet the needs of the seafarer in a constantly changing global shipping environment. We have undertaken a number of surveys to assess how we meet those needs and where we need to change our focus to improve/expand our services and delivery.

We have been assisted by under-graduate and post-graduate psychology students from the Australian Catholic University Brisbane Campus in engaging with seafarers at the centre and undertaking survey activities on the Mission’s behalf as part of this ongoing Mission self-assessment process. This is not a continuous engagement with the university and has been undertaken on a collaborative basis to suit specific student study requirements.

We have also been assisted by media students from Queensland University of Technology to improve and expand our marketing and communication medium development. Again this collaboration is based around student study requirements.

Secondary students from Cannon Hill Anglican College have assisted over a number of years in planting out and extending the garden areas around the seafarer centre.

The annual Christmas Bags Appeal for the seafarers is supported by a number of Anglican colleges and a local kindergarten. The seafarers are sometimes overcome by the very personal Christmas card greetings from the children, and the well-stocked Christmas bags are most welcome on a Christmas Day at sea away from their families.

What effect has winning the Seafarer Centre of the Year award had on the centre?

The initial impact of winning the award was excitement and elation from not only the Mission committee and volunteers but from all our supporters across Brisbane, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts and rural areas. We had supporting parishes cheering in church when they were informed of the Mission gaining such a prestigious award, for example. It gave us all such a great sense of pride in what we have been working together on for so many years.

To be nominated by the seafarers we serve and to be judged by our peers gave great importance to the award in everyone’s mind and shows that the seafarers and the shipping industry value what we do and the difference it makes in seafarer’s lives.

We have had pleasing press coverage with radio interviews and articles in local newspapers and Diocese and parish media. The key outcome long term I think is the increased standing of the Mission to Seafarers Brisbane in the broader community, many of whom had not heard of the Mission and its welfare and pastoral work with seafarers or were unaware of the importance of shipping and seafarers to their lives until they became conscious of our winning the award.

We celebrated the winning of the Seafarers Centre of the Year award by holding a thanksgiving celebration at the centre to recognise the importance of the award and the support provided by our many stakeholders and followers. This was well attended with people coming from across suburban Brisbane, Queensland and from interstate.

Why is the role of seafarers’ centres so important in seafarers’ welfare?

The port-based seafarer centre is of great importance to the overall wellbeing of seafarers and also has a key role to play in reducing human element risk in shipping.

Seafarers live and work in a harsh and sometimes dangerous industrial environment full of noise, dirt and oil and are encased in a large steel box as their home and workplace for up to 12 months.

Spending extended periods in such a man-made environment disconnects the seafarer from the beauty of nature and the normal surroundings of home and country. The Mission seafarer centre garden areas are a green oasis of plants, flowers and birds in which seafarers can seek refuge and comfort for a short period away from the man-made environment in which they live. The gardens reduce stress and improve mental clarity.

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Seafarers work and live in a largely monochrome environment onboard ship, with mainly blacks, whites, browns and greys both within the accommodation and on deck and in the engine room. Whilst functional, this monochromatic environment is under-stimulating and can contribute to stress. Modern research suggests that colour has a profound impact on how we feel and our biological functions. The Mission has noted this research and is using the addition of colour in the seafarer centre to provide a calming and restful environment for seafarers to relax in and recover from the stress of constant ship work activity.

After seafarers have visited the Mission they return to their ship in a better frame of mind, refreshed and alert, with feelings of isolation and loneliness reduced and are less likely to injure themselves or others or cause a disaster in port or along Australia’s pristine coastline. This reduces the human element risk factor in shipping for every seafarer visitor to our seafarer centre, a valuable risk mitigation measure not fully appreciated by governments, ports or the broader shipping industry

The Mission seeks to provide the means to heal mind, body and spirit.

What plans does the Mission to Seafarers Brisbane have for the future?

Continue to identify opportunities to improve and expand our engagement with visiting seafarers: The regular Mission ship visiting program extends our welfare and pastoral care activity to as many seafarers visiting the port as possible, concentrating on first call Brisbane shipping. The Mission acknowledges, based on recent in-house survey data, the need to engage with the majority of seafarers unable to get shore leave during the brief period in port and is currently in the process of expanding the ship visitor program. A recent ISWAN accredited ship visitor course will provide the Mission with the ability to undertake an increased number of ship visits. This builds the number of trained ship visitors to around 20 and our goal for the coming 12 months is to establish a structured port wide ship visitor program in conjunction with Apostleship of the Sea.

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Free onsite meals: The Mission would like to be able to provide a variety of nutritionally balanced meals to suit all tastes and religious requirements so that seafarers don’t have to rush back to their ship for a midday or evening meal and can continue to enjoy their time ashore at the Mission, nourished physically and mentally.

Ongoing upgrades to the seafarer centre: Recent activity has focused on refreshing the toilets and showers, new clothing racks, new magazine and library areas and improving the meeting room and offices. The Port of Brisbane has provided roof mounted solar panels and this has enabled us to install air-conditioning for the whole centre using only the solar power. The Port of Brisbane is currently undertaking external maintenance to the seafarer centre building. Current Mission funded activity is centred on refreshing the games area, furniture replacement and expansion of the gardens.

Autonomous shipping is evolving rapidly with new technology and high-speed programming enabling the full automation and at sea operation of shipping. These ships are expected to begin to appear in the world’s ports over the next decade or so.

For the Mission this draws special attention to two key issues – what happens to the current 1.5 million seafarers with potentially high job losses in the next two decades and how do we engage with the few remaining seafarers?

The Mission is trying to keep abreast of the introduction of the autonomous ship and aims to be ahead of the need for services, both from issues seafarers face as crew size reduces, such as anguish, hopelessness, depression and suicide, and how to engage with the few remaining, probably highly stressed, seafarers whilst in port.

Mission to Seafarers Brisbane Inc. Points of Contact:

Phone: Seafarers Centre +61 (0)7 3895 1181
Website: Visit us at
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