Garry South, Port Chaplain for Port Hedland Seafarers Centre in Australia, was named The Dr Dierk Lindemann Welfare Personality of the Year at the International Seafarers’ Welfare Awards 2019 in September. We spoke to Garry after the awards ceremony about his work with seafarers at Port Hedland.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am one of ten children, I have five sisters and four brothers. I’ve been married to my wife (Kathy) for 37 years, we have 3 daughters and 6 grandchildren. Kathy and I moved to Port Hedland in 2011 to work at The Mission to Seafarers (MtS). We previously worked at a Christian Drug Rehab for five years (it was a faith ministry, no salary).
When we first arrived at the Seafarers Centre a busy day was about 30 seafarers, but now an average day is over 90 seafarers a day.
I believe God led us to Port Hedland to minister to the seafarers. I had been reading Acts 27 & 28, Paul's shipwreck. Acts 28:2 'The islanders showed us unusual kindness…'. The next day we received a phone call asking us to consider coming to Port Hedland to help them to minister to the seafarers. The rest is history.
How do you support seafarers in your work as a port chaplain?
We support the seafarers both physically and spiritually: 'Empty stomachs have no ears.'
We provide safe/free access ashore for the seafarers, free travel to the supermarket. We provide free WiFi and a place to relax and unwind.
My job involves caring for the seafarers’ wellbeing, both physically and spiritually and also caring for their families.
My goal is to visit at least two vessels every day, which involves catching a launch boat to go to the vessels. Some of the crew are unable to go ashore, so they appreciate someone to visit them. Some Chief Officers never go ashore, so they are on board for nine months.
What do you enjoy most about your work, and what are the most challenging parts?
I enjoy spending time with the seafarers on board, sitting down with them and sharing lunch together. Talking to them about their families and their life struggles. Giving them a Children’s Bible for their children. Not just talking Jesus to them but being Jesus to them.
The most challenging thing is visiting them when they have been injured or sick in hospital or after a family member has died, or a crew member has committed suicide. Seeing seafarers who have suffered horrific injuries or who are extremely ill is difficult.
One seafarer’s 12-year-old daughter died whilst he was on board, another lost his leg in an accident on board and another was badly burnt. A 21-year-old cadet in hospital with leukaemia, away from family support. And the list goes on. Much pain and suffering.
You have done some brilliant fundraising for seafarers and their families who you have supported – tell us more about this.
We were involved in raising funds for the Indian seafarer who lost his leg in a berthing accident in the port. He was just married before he joined the vessel. He was afraid that her family would annul the marriage. It took me four days to convince him that he had to tell his wife he was injured.
We have been involved in raising funds for many seafarers who have been injured or sick. There have been several seafarers who have died on board and we have provided some financial support to their families.
How did you feel when you found out you had won The Dr Dierk Lindemann Welfare Personality of the Year award?
I was surprised I had won the award. I felt very privileged to be going to London to accept the award. It not only recognises my work/ministry but it gave me an opportunity to give glory to God for what He had done. It recognises the great work that is happening in Port Hedland and the support we receive from the Port Authority, BHP, FMG, Roy Hill, etc.
Kathy and I enjoyed London, it was fantastic, it was our first time in England, but I hope it won’t be our last. We loved it.
How have things changed for you since winning the award?
It has made me even more busy, but it has also given us more credibility with the mining and shipping companies. I have been contacted to do many interviews concerning the seafarers. I have been asked to do an article on seafarers’ mental health and I was interviewed for an article for Eternity News. Many of the seafarers were very pleased I won the award. Many of the port users contacted me to congratulate me for winning the award.
Why is the role of port chaplains like yourself so important in seafarers’ welfare?
The role of a Port Chaplain is extremely important. The seafarers are some of the most undervalued people I know. They need to know that someone cares about them. 'People/Seafarers don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.'
Not only do we care about the seafarers, but we also care about their families. It is extremely important that seafarers feel that the people at the Seafarers Centre care about what happens to them.
See 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. And I John 3:18
What plans do you have for the future?
God willing, we will continue to minister to the seafarers and their families. I don’t know any other people groups that are more dedicated to providing for their families than the seafarers.
I would like to encourage other MtS centres to care more for the seafarers.
At the moment we are preparing 2000 gift bags to give out to seafarers at Christmas time, which is about 90 Ships. We will start delivering them from about the 22nd December through to the 26th December.
For updates on Garry's work with seafarers, visit the Port Hedland Seafarers Centre Facebook page: facebook.com/port.hedland.seafarers.centre.