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There is a lot to do to make sure the light we can see is at the end of the tunnel and not that of a departing vessel’s stern….

April may seem an odd time to reflect on the New Year, but it’s Spring, and that’s always a good time to review what’s gone on and plan ahead. We have spent the last couple of months consolidating, reviewing, looking ahead and reorganising. 

Ben Gibbons’ arrival in January, as the new MCG Manager, has also seen the MCG host organisation move from Seafarers UK to Nautilus Welfare.  The migration is now complete and includes the launch of our new website. We intend the site to be a source of information, a simple repository for MCG reports, and to provide links to our members and other key organisations. 

Our thanks must go to Seafarers UK for hosting the group and its website for so many years.  As Chairman it has been good to know that there was always firm administrative support behind us.  Nautilus Welfare have been incredibly welcoming and helpful over the transfer of all the behind the scenes administration and we look forward to working together over the years to come. 

Turning to more pressing matters, Covid-19 is now, sadly, almost routine business.  Every advance on facilitating seafarer movements and recognition as key workers seems to be countered by new variants of the disease or other complications. Hundreds of thousands of seafarers are still impacted by the crew change crisis, whether they are stuck at sea or out of work.  Something I think none of us would have foreseen a year ago.  Vaccinations for seafarers, is of course also an issue.

We continue to promote our Redundancy & Retraining Bursary which, with £40k in the pot, provides up to £500 towards retraining for those who have lost employment through Covid. The fund is administered by the Marine Society on behalf of ourselves, Trinity House and MNWB, and is going well. So far they have approved over 45 applications for a wide variety of training courses, to a total value of over £20k.  The scheme is set to run until the beginning of May but we are now looking at whether it might be extended.

MCG members and the front-line charities they support are beginning to see cases of need increase as seafarers use up their credit and coping with consequent debt becomes a high priority.  Fortunately, most charities have been able to roll over or draw down any unused funds and reserves for Covid related relief, but this is of course often at significant cost to the charities themselves.  Some new funds have been launched, including the Seafarers UK Maritime Anchor Fund. This takes a holistic approach by bringing together a number of organisations including SAIL, Relate and the Seafarers Hospital Society, to support working merchant seafarers experiencing financial hardship, relationship problems and poor mental health.

The situation for those supporting the fishing community is no less pressured, with fishers facing issues not just from Covid, but also from the market complications brought on by BREXIT. At a recent MNWB meeting for charities dealing with Covid, we heard from colleagues at the Fishermen’s Mission about the ever increasing demand on their caseworkers as applications for support continue to flood in.

Also on the subject of caseworking, at our last MCG meeting we heard from Nautilus Welfare colleagues about the crucial role played by caseworkers based in local communities who are helping to raise awareness of the help available from maritime charities and others. In 2020 they handled over 400 cases and generated over £1m in benefits and grants. The question for us at MCG is what can we learn from the work they are doing and how can we work together to build on their success?

That’s just one of the topics we covered recently at an extraordinary MCG meeting to determine key areas of research and interest for the year ahead.  Continued collaboration and  co-operation were top of the list, alongside wider engagement both within and outside the maritime welfare sector, and a review of who’s doing what in relation to caseworking. Mental health will remain high on our agenda, with the Group’s Standard for Seafarers’ Mental Health and Wellbeing Awareness Training playing an important part.  We will also be seeking the views of our wider stakeholder group on where we should be focusing our future research efforts.

There is certainly a lot to do to make sure the light we can see is at the end of the tunnel and not that of a departing vessel’s stern.

Keep safe and don’t forget:

Tell your crew, tell your colleagues, tell your mates.