Not being a natural blogger, it is always tricky to know how to start. What fresh look can there be? With England now back in lockdown the sense of déjà vu can be overwhelming. A view not helped when one learns, from Nautilus International, that the number of seafarers stuck at sea has risen back to around 400,000 as countries tighten their controls to meet the new wave of the pandemic.
Returning to UK matters, a positive is that the MCG’s initiative to provide a fund to help retrain redundant seafarers so they may stay in the Maritime Industry, is up and running. The fund is supported equally by MCG Members Trinity House and the Merchant Navy Welfare Board, with the MCG covering the fund administration costs of the Marine Society, which is managing the process and has considerable experience in this area. Full details may be found in our recent press release.
Also on a positive note, the first meeting of the MCG’s Health Sub Group, led by the Seafarers Hospital Society, will take place towards the end of this month. It will be reviewing the options for the MCG’s seafarers’ health related work in 2021. We will be joined by representatives from the MCA and Thomas Miller and other charities. The progress of the MCG’s Mental Health Training Standard will also be reviewed. In the meantime, it is good to see that the Standard is becoming recognised and has most recently been used by MNWB to inform its new online training course.
Since the beginning of the pandemic we have seen very significant problems arising for seafarers with regard to debt and similar issues. After a brief respite over the summer, and as the winter and second wave come in, the Fishermen’s Mission reports that hardship in the fishing communities is on the rise again. A situation not helped by the closure of hospitality venues and the concomitant collapse of the associated market for fish. This will undoubtedly bring more clients to SAIL (Seafarers Advice and Information Line), the seafarers’ Citizens’ Advice service, which is supported by MCG members the Seafarers Hospital Society, Seafarers UK and Greenwich Hospital.
Writing on the day after Remembrance Sunday, the impact of the pandemic was emphasised by the extraordinary quiet at the Cenotaph, no distant traffic, no shuffling or stifled coughs. It is perhaps a pregnant silence as those charities, like the British Legion, that have realised assets, seen fundraising events cancelled and been unable to hold street collections, worry about the future. A thought for consideration?
Of even longer standing than the RBL is the QVSR, the Queen Victoria’s Seamen’s Rest, www.qvsr.org.uk. Established in 1843, it is perhaps the last Seafarers’ hostel in London. Situated in London’s East End it provides accommodation and often a home for past and current members of the Merchant Navy, Armed Forces veterans and homeless adults. It also manages the Tilbury Seafarers Mission https://www.qvsr.org.uk/seafarers-centres/ providing somewhere to meet, phone home and just take a break from being at sea.
The mission is also currently supporting the crews of several stranded cruise ships as the ships’ future is being determined. These operations are overseen by CEO Alex Campbell who has run the QVSR since 2003 and been involved with homeless charities for most of his working life. It is therefore a great pleasure to offer him the MCG’s congratulations on the award of the OBE in this October’s Honours List.
Finally, the kind of issues the QVSR and others have been dealing with are being considered at a Webinar conference organised by the IMO’s World Maritime University on Wednesday 25 November. One stream of which, highlighting the effects of Covid-19 on seafarers’ mental health, is being run by MCG member, the Lloyds Register Foundation. Attendance at the Conference is free and details can be found here: https://www.wmu.se/events/understanding-the-effects-of-covid-19-on-seafarers
We hope to see you there. In the meantime, keep safe. And don’t forget, the maritime charities are here to help.
Tell your crew, tell your colleagues, tell your mates.
Commander Graham Hockley LVO RN