Seafarers’ welfare must be supported: Cardinal Sea Sunday

As the Catholic Church in Australia and many other countries prepares to celebrate Sea Sunday on July 8, Cardinal Peter Turkson has called for international labor agreements aimed at supporting those who work on the seas to be upheld.

Cardinal Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Human Integral Development, said some companies are not allowing seafarers time ashore when their vessel is in port, while others aren’t allowing chaplains and other support personnel to visit the ship.

He said that such behaviour is in breach of the spirit of aspects of the Maritime Labor Convention aimed at improving the wellbeing of seafarers.

“Crews should not be denied the freedom of coming ashore likewise chaplains and ship visitors should not be denied the right to go on board of vessels,” Cardinal Turkson said.

Cardinal Turkson said those who work on the seas — on merchant, fishing, passenger or war vessels — are also often subject to considerable dangers, not least from piracy.

He said piracy is inevitably related to political instability, but added that changes in a number of maritime industries, including fishing, had allowed “unscrupulous individuals” to convince people who were unemployed to become pirates.

Cardinal Turkson also lamented statistics that point to an increase in the number of seafarers who are abandoned. Statistics show more than 1,300 people were abandoned for a variety of reasons in the five years till 2017 — often without having been paid their wages, without food and without supplies for an onward journey.

In many such cases, Cardinal Turkson explained, the Church’s ministry to seafarers through its Stella Maris centres has been critical in providing material, spiritual, legal and psychological support.

Sea Sunday, celebrated on July 8 this year, includes an appeal to support the work in those centres and the chaplains and managers who work in Australian ports.

Many parishes will hold special collections on Sea Sunday for that purpose, or people can visit the Apostleship of the Sea website for information on the ministry and how to support its work.

Last month, Bishop Bosco Puthur, the Bishop Promoter for the Apostleship of the Sea in Australia, spoke about the critical work carried out in and from the Stella Maris centres.

“The men and women who spend weeks or months on end travelling the oceans have often left family and other loved ones behind, and they often don’t have access to their religious practices,” Bishop Puthur said.

“For those people for whom faith is integral to their life, being helped to access the sacraments after a long journey is a source of great comfort and joy.”