It’s exactly 12 weeks since the start of “Lockdown” and, perhaps like many others, I had hoped we’d be nearer a clear end to the current pandemic. However, as we learn more about the virus so its complexity seems to increase and the possibility of a “clean” end to the pandemic becomes less certain.
This is reflected in the challenges facing the Maritime Charities Group (MCG). Some of those challenges have eased with Fishers getting back to sea and finding new ways to market their catch, but hardship is not far away. Some issues have stayed remarkably similar – in my last blog I commented that the position of UK seafarers and those stranded in the UK had improved – but overall the issues remain. Many seafarers still can’t get home from overseas, some can’t leave home to relieve others still at sea. They in their turn have had their contracts extended and may now have been at sea for over a year. These latter issues have been raised at the IMO and with governments and hopefully they will be resolved, but a few days ago the Financial Times highlighted the problem stating that there were approximately 400,000 seafarers stranded at sea or in port around the world.
Supporting them and their families is very much the business of many maritime charities.
In discharging this “business”, MCG members have committed over £5,000,000 so far, frequently realising reserves to meet the need. The income from these investments/reserves has often been key to the charities being able to discharge their objects in a sustained manner. However, having realised these assets the charities’ income will of course have been reduced and it will have been further affected by the lower dividends from the remaining assets, a marked decline in donations, the lack of fundraising event income, eg from the London Marathon, and fewer legacies.
In the months to come and as the impact of the pandemic continues to affect seafarers this reduction of income will become an even more serious concern. So we are planning to hold a seminar for Maritime Charity Trustees and Heads of Finance to help share experience and best practice – watch this space.
On a brighter note the Maritime Charities, always fraternally bound through the sea, are working even closer together and a working group has been looking at the best way to make the availability of their support known to seafarers and their dependants at large. It has been a phenomenon of the pandemic to date, that, while the Fishers have been hit harder than might have been predicted, those in the Merchant Navy have not sought help in the numbers expected.
In the UK this may be a function of the government’s various schemes such as furlough and those in the Merchant Service may have a higher level of personal reserves. However, this may change as government support and mortgage deferrals etc come to and end. More worryingly it may be because Merchant Seafarers and their dependants don’t know where to go to find help and hence a message has been coined by the working group:
If you are a seafarer feeling the financial impact of COVID-19, go to www.seafarersupport.org to find out what support is available.
Tell Your Crew
Tell Your Colleagues
Tell Your Mates!
The key thing is: we are telling them that support is available and where to find it.
And it will be much more readily so in the very near future when the re-vamped Seafarer Support web site www.seafarersupport.org is launched. The new site, supported by the Merchant Navy Welfare Board, is currently undergoing tests and is due to be launched in the next few weeks. Then it will be even easier to find the help a seafarer needs from any one of the 140 or so maritime charities that are there for our seafarers, present and past, and their families.
Keep well and remember Seafarers Awareness Week 6 – 12 July.
Commander Graham Hockley LVO RN