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 Ingrid Romers from the Port of Rotterdam, which won 2018’s Port of the Year award.
Tell us a bit about yourself and the port you represent.
The Port of Rotterdam is the biggest port in Europe, and the 10th biggest in the world. Every year we have around 30,000 seagoing vessels calling and over 100,000 inland vessels. The port stretches 40 km long which in itself is a challenge in terms of seafarers’ welfare. I am senior advisor for the Harbour Master in the port and since 2015 I am secretary of the then newly established Rotterdam Port Welfare Committee, a task that is quite different from my other tasks but that I enjoy a lot doing.
What welfare services and facilities does the Port of Rotterdam provide for seafarers?
The Rotterdam Port Welfare Committee has a fund where everyone, business and private individuals, can apply for money for projects. The fund supports all kind of initiatives and everyone can apply for sponsoring, provided that the project benefits the welfare of seafarers visiting Rotterdam. This may be a specific group, for example seafarers who like to play sports or seafarers in a certain part of the port, such as Botlekhaven. The fund is brought together by Deltalinqs (the association representing the companies in the port), the port authority and Stichting the Beer, with Harbour Master René de Vries as Chairman of the Board. In addition, the fund supports the seafarers’ clubs, the transport to them and the volunteers working in the seafarers’ welfare field.
RPWC also seeks to provide more Wi-Fi in the port, such as via mobile routers; in January 2018 the first 10 MiFi’s have been put into operation by ship visitors.
Speaking of ship visitors; Port Keys have been made available to them, an option that was till now not open to volunteers but which allows them to go on board without losing lots of time in administration and security procedures.
All Port Facility Security Officers have received a leaflet to make them aware of the necessity of ship visits and of seafarers’ shore leave; however strict security measurers apply and need to be followed, awareness for any unnecessary time lost at the gate was brought under the attention of security officers and ship agents.
RPWC also has provided personal protective equipment (helmets, safety glasses, safety vests etc.) to ship visitors in order to provide for their personal safety on board and, via the RPWC logo, make the welfare work more noted.
And finally there is the Bridge, a new seaman's house in Oostvoorne that was made possible by a start-up finance of RPWC. The Bridge has received more than 5,000 seafarers in its first year of existence!
What do you feel makes the Port of Rotterdam stand out among other ports in terms of seafarers’ welfare provision?
Apart from funding welfare initiatives, the Rotterdam Port Welfare Committee twice a year brings together everyone who has something to do with seafarers' welfare; representations of shipowners, ship agents, seafarers and trade unions, ITF, ship visitors, missions, seaman's homes and voluntary organizations. These are fascinating meetings in which we try to come together for mutual consultation and a joint approach to sometimes difficult to solve matters.
What effect has winning the Port of the Year award had on the port?
We are happy with this award because it confirms that we are doing well to become a port where seafarers like to come. The Port of Rotterdam indeed wishes to be a welcoming port to seafarers, not only to cargoes. This award shows that we are on the right track. The Harbour Master now also pays attention to the seafarers in his port when he presents the yearly ‘nautical annual figures’ to journalists.
The award also opens doors to companies in the port. It is amazing how many companies have never considered that the welfare of seafarers may be an issue. But when you talk to them about the life at sea and how important it is to spend a short while ashore whilst in port, they start to see that and even promise to think about what they could contribute.
The award is certainly also due to the work of dozens of volunteers from Rotterdam and surroundings and it is a recognition to their work as well. We need many volunteers for this work and I am sure that the ISWAN award will stimulate volunteers and get the work out of the unknown. RPWC presents seafarers’ welfare work on several Rotterdam voluntary jobs platforms in order to raise the profile of and familiarity with voluntary work for seafarers and the award is an important part of the profile!
Why is the role of ports so important in seafarers’ welfare?
Welfare is typically work that is necessary but that at the same time knows no business case. The work depends largely on sponsoring and on volunteers. A port can support and enthuse those volunteers and the organisations that they work for and provide financial support.
There are growing shortages of seafarers, partly caused by the working conditions that make the profession less attractive. Better shore facilities could at least partially improve these conditions.
Also it is argued that some 80% of maritime accidents are attributed to 'human factors'. A good reception of seafarers by the ports can indirectly contribute to fewer accidents.
And last but not least: a port visit is THE opportunity for a seafarer to contact family and friends, to get a change of routine at sea, to meet people and to receive medical care.
This is why also the Maritime Labour Convention, interest groups and other maritime organizations, have been pleading for better shore facilities in harbors for some time.
What plans does the Port of Rotterdam have for the future?
We started the work in 2015 and now it is important to keep the work going. Sometimes it is more easy to start than to keep the spirit going. But then again, we have a number of interesting ideas still to be worked out, such as the app ‘Rotterdam Ashore’ that we want to build. It will make contacts between seafarers, when in Rotterdam, possible.
Then transport; the RPWC agreed that the seafarers’ centres may use a taxi company to transport seafarers to their centres in rush hours, this is when their own transport buses are occupied. The taxi costs are for the funds. It also supports costs for insurance etc. of the own transport means of welfare organisations. But this is of course just ‘a drop on a glowing plate’ in a port that stretches 40 km long.
Now, within a consortium, the port is developing public transport in the western part and a newly build transferium connects buses, ferries, taxis, etc. Seafarers as a target group have been put on the agenda of the consortium and it is checked whether connections for seafarers can be found on the new OV transferium.
Also, terminals that provide transport on the terminal for their workers will be asked to consider seafarers in this transport when they leave or go to the ship.
And finally we feel like we have another challenge; and that is that it is not always easy to know how best to serve a seafarer, so which are the projects that RPWC should sponsor and which are best left aside?