A day in the life of a Mission to Seafarers chaplain

From Mission to Seafarers chaplain in The Middle East, Dr Paul Burt

In the steamy heat of summer in the Arabian Gulf air-conditioning is essential if crews are to survive the rigours of living and working in such conditions. The crew of a ship in the anchorage off Ajman in the UAE found themselves relying on air-conditioning in an even more basic way than usual. They were reduced to drinking the water that is a by-product of the air-conditioner’s condenser as it dripped off the casing. The ship had been without supplies for more than two weeks. The agent had not been paid by the owner and the owner was in financial trouble. So, the men on board had nothing to keep them alive, apart from licking up the water from the air-conditioner and the few fish they could catch.

Chaplain Paul Burt continues:

On one vessel the crew had not received any salary for over a year. Most of that time they were stuck in the anchorage with no means of helping themselves get out of the trap they were in. They made an SOS call to the Mission to Seafarers, UAE on a phone that had almost no charge and no credit.

When our supply boat drew alongside it was clear that the men were in a poor state physically. Their clothes were dirty and ragged, and the vessel was rusty and unloved. Yet the men were remarkably resilient and very pleased to see myself and Fr Nelson and the desperately needed supplies. Unloading was a precarious operation as the swell toyed with our little supply boat. Throwing frozen chickens up onto a ship in the hope that the crew would catch them and not drop them into the sea seemed a faintly surreal way of being an MtS chaplain! One of the men clambered down onto our little boat so that he could plead with us face to face. ‘Sir, please take us with you to the port. We have been here so long. We cannot survive out here much longer.’ It was not easy telling him that we could not smuggle him and his crewmates past the watchful eye of the coastguard.

While Paul was on this mission to deliver emergency supplies, he came across another ship – one he had not seen before. On board was one lone seafarer; his name was Nirmal. Nirmal had been alone on the ship for nine months without pay and no way of getting home.

Before Paul climbed aboard the dirty and rusting ship, Nirmal had not seen another human being or bathed for two months. He was surviving by catching fish and cooking them over a small fire he had built on deck. Paul was very moved at the sight of Nirmal.

‘He looked bedraggled and forlorn. His eyes had a faraway, disconnected kind of look. I marvelled at his resilience. If it had been me I would have succumbed to the suicide urge weeks ago.’

More than providing emergency assistance, the Mission to Seafarers is committed to tackling the root causes of abandonment and ensuring the human rights of seafarers are respected. Upon returning to his office, Paul immediately contacted the Federal Transport Authority (FTA) and started the process of demanding wages and passage home for the seafarers.





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