Founded in 1994 and open seven days a week, Brest Seamen's Club offers a welcoming space to crew members calling at the Port of Brest in France. We spoke to Thierry Beisser, President of Brest Seamen's Club, about the invaluable services and facilities on offer to visiting seafarers and how this is possible through the staff and volunteer's hard work.
What is your role at Brest Seamen’s Club?
I am the president of the Seamen's Club of Brest so in this position I represent the association in its relations with other organisations and external contacts. I think I am just one element of our efficient and motivated teams including our board of four people, our two employees and a young assistant in Civic Service, and 25 volunteers. My objective is to offer a high quality of welfare services to improve the attractiveness of the seamen's club through identification of new possible services expected by seafarers. We are sure we could increase the number of seafarers visiting the seamen’s club.
We also put an emphasis on visits on board ships because we know that it is important to go and meet the seafarers where they work. I am also keen to make our role known by the public, in particular through the media on the occasion of special events that we organise or in which we are involved.
How many staff work at your centre and what do they do?
We have a permanent staff of two part-time employees, Alain and Françoise. They alternate so as to have a professional every day to welcome seafarers at the seamen's club. They take part in the day-to-day running of the association. We have also in our staff a young man of 20, Manu, who is doing a Civic service for eight months. His salary is paid by the government. They have all followed the online ship visitor course and carry out ships visits every day in the morning. Alain is undoubtedly the first Frenchman to have followed the online course for ships welfare visitors. Every day at least one volunteer gives support to the employee on duty, thus the shuttle service can be ensured.
How many seafarers visit Brest Seamen’s Club each year and how do you make them feel welcome?
Brest Seamen’s Club is open seven days a week. We consider there is no day off for seafarers' welfare. Brest is not one of the eight French major seaports but our seamen's club ranks fifth in terms of number of visitors. In 2019, 3,377 seafarers came in the seamen’s club and we transported 4,023. We are very dependent on the activity of a repair yard where big ships come for several weeks. We had more than 5,000 seafarers in 2015. On some evenings last year we received more than 70 seafarers and we had to temporarily reinforce our reception teams. Security officers at access points of the port facilities often call the seamen's club if seafarers going ashore need the shuttle, which arrives in less than 10 minutes.
Our two employees go on board the newly arrived ships to meet the crew and inform them about the seamen's club and its services by distributing flyers. Shipping agents also give flyers to masters. Useful information for seafarers is given in English and Russian on our website, and we also have a Facebook account.
What facilities and services does Brest Seamen’s Club offer to seafarers calling at the Port of Brest?
Since 2015, we welcome seafarers in brand new premises with a surface area of 140 sqm. The seamen’s club comprises three rooms including a bar, a games room and a comfortable lounge. In addition, a private outdoor terrace can be used by our visitors.
Our policy has always been to maintain a maximum of free services to seafarers. We offer a free shuttle service between ships and the seamen's club, and if our shuttle is not busy in the port area, we can transport seafarers from the seamen’s club to the city centre or to the nearest supermarket. There is no schedule and the shuttle driver is always available for seafarers during opening times. We also offer free, high-speed WiFi and have two computers and a TV connected to the internet. Seafarers can enjoy free coffee, tea and juice at our bar, and we offer free tickets for public transport and local attractions.
Seafarers can exchange currency at the seamen's club and we provide SIM cards and top-ups. We also have a mini shop with souvenirs, toiletries, etc. and a storage facility for internet shopping. As well as all our games, we have karaoke and musical instruments for seafarers to use. During Christmas time we offer gifts and/or vouchers to seafarers. We host painting and photography exhibitions, which contributes to a nice atmosphere in the seamen’s club. We also visit seafarers in hospital. Most of them arrive by helicopter after medical evacuation from ship.
What do you find are the most popular facilities and services among seafarers?
The possibility for seafarers to contact families and friends remains essential. Nowadays most of seafarers are equipped with smartphones. They are happy to use free high speed WiFi at the seamen’s club and to find SIM cards and top-up. They also appreciate the possibility to change currency, to have a beer with their colleagues and play games.
The number of seafarers we transport in our shuttle (more than 4,000 in 2019) shows how this service is necessary as there is no suitable public transport in the port area. The shuttle is essential when the weather is bad.
Human interaction must be emphasised. Availability of employees and volunteers to talk with our visitors and respond to their needs is the utmost priority. We must offer a warm welcome.
Do you work with any other welfare organisations or companies in the port?
Our seamen’s club is the only seafarers' welfare organisation in the port of Brest. However, we maintain regular contacts with a local Filipino association. In case a Filipino seafarer is at hospital after a medical evacuation from his ship, members of this association are committed to help with regular visits. Their solidarity with their compatriots is remarkable. A few years ago, we solicited donations from companies working in the port. We could see that donors were only companies employing seafarers or ex-seafarers (pilots, tug company, mooring services, maritime experts). This showed us the need to maintain efforts to promote the activity of the seamen’s club in local port industry.
What plans or hopes do you have for the future at Brest Seamen’s Club?
It will be soon possible to view on the internet a virtual tour of Brest Seamen’s Club with video 360°. A nice and very good way for seafarers to discover the seamen’s club premises from the ship with their smartphone or with our ship visitors, and then decide to visit us. In addition, the replacement our 12-year-old diesel minibus is becoming necessary. We operate every day on short distances so the purchase of an electric minibus would make sense. The installation of a charging point will be necessary and is currently studied by the port operator.
We have recently bought promotional items which we will begin to distribute to seafarers, and we expect the port authority to place inside the port premises large information panels about the seamen’s club and its available services. In spring, we will install an artificial lawn on our 34 sqm outdoor terrace. We will also ask French tax authorities for official recognition of general interest for our organisation. Already five seamen’s clubs in France have this recognition. With such recognition, donors may benefit from tax cuts. It will also enhance credibility of our activity by members of the public.