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  • 04/12/2019 12:25 PM

    Seafarer welfare: a Christmas story for seafarers in Sydney

    It’s a lonely life for many of the world’s seafarers, but Sydney’s marine pilots have found a way to spread some festive cheer to crews visiting Port Botany this Christmas.

    Christmas: a time for family, friends and festivities but, for many of the world’s seafarers, it’s a time of extreme loneliness.

    Often spending months at sea at a time, international seafarers have one of the most isolating jobs going, but this Christmas, Sydney marine pilot Michael Kelly will bring some festive cheer to Port Botany.

    Last year Michael came up with the idea to give a Christmas gift bag packed with chocolate treats and practical items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and deodorant to as many visiting seafarers as possible.

    Image: Port Authority’s marine pilots and volunteers will hand seafarers visiting
    Sydney 1700 care packages this Christmas.

    After receiving heart-warming feedback, this year Michael will work with Port Authority’s workers and volunteers from the Port Welfare Committee, to expand the project and hand out over 1700 gift bags to crews calling into port.

     “The reaction last year was amazing,” says Michael. “Ship captains told us it was the first time anyone had done this and opening the gifts made their day. Sadly, for many seafarers, Christmas is just like any other working day, but this way the maritime community is showing they care.”

    The recent Seafarer Mental Health Study by Yale University has shown the world’s seafarers face potentially dangerous levels of depression, anxiety and suicide risk, with 20 per cent of the 1,572 seafarers sampled having contemplated suicide or self-harm.

    “The issues seafarers face at sea include isolation, loneliness, stress, abuse, wage issues and job insecurity,” says Michael. “Many spend 10 months onboard their vessels and their time in port is always busy, limiting them to the services they can access onshore.”


    Image: Mark Armstrong, Sister Mary Leahy, and Lindsay and Karlie Cavanagh put together the Christmas care packages.

    A committed supporter of seafarer welfare, Michael joined the Port Welfare committee in 2018.

    “Marine pilots are the first and last people the ship’s crew see when they enter and exit port — we can make a huge difference to their welfare. The volunteers here help with transport, take books, newspapers and warm clothes onto the ships or just sit to talk with the crews and listen to their problems. A simple newspaper becomes so important when you don’t have internet, tv or radio for months at a time.”

    Michael and Port Authority work closely with the maritime charities, Mission to Seafarers, Sister Mary Leahy (chaplain to seafarers in Sydney) and the Tas Bull Seafarers Foundation which provide vital support services to seafarers in Sydney.

    In Sydney, the charity offers free transport from the port to their centre in Walsh Bay where seafarers can access practical services like the internet, phone cards and money exchange as well as mental health services such as counselling.

    In Port Botany, Sister Mary has moved into a new office donated by Port Authority, where she will provide welfare to ship crews and port workers.

    Find out more about Mission to Seafarers

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