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28/09/2021 11:34 AM

Life on the high seas during the COVID pandemic: a seafarer's story!

Deck cadets, as seafarers-in-training, work extremely close with seafarers in their ship placements. Port Authority of NSW Deck Cadet graduate Amelia Fitzgerald is no different and  during her work with SeaRoad, she has witnessed first-hand how COVID-19 has worsened already-tough working conditions.

“People hear about the COVID impacts on shipping, but they don’t always think about the actual impacts on the seafarers,” Miss Fitzgerald said.

“International seafarers have been stuck on the ships for months and months, away from their homes, their families and their loved ones. They do not have internet a lot of the time. And you also have to remember that they’re stuck with the same people on the boat and not everyone necessarily gets along.”

“It’s pretty ironic — seafarers are the ones working so hard to deliver all the ordinary goods people take for granted, goods that we can pop off to the shops to buy, but these guys often have no access to these goods themselves. That is why the care packages sent by Port Authority and Mission for Seafarers are so important.”

Port Authority of NSW CEO Captain Philip Holliday said Port Authority has a proud tradition of going above and beyond to improve seafarer welfare.

“It makes me incredibly proud to know Port Authority has led the expansion of the Seafarers Connect program where we have been supporting the roll out of free WIFI to vessels when they arrive in port,” Captain Holliday said.

“Since April 2020 ports in Sydney, Newcastle and Port Kembla, have been providing high-tech ‘Cradlepoint’ WIFI kits to get seafarers online and reconnected with their families and friends through their phones, tablets and computers without leaving the ship.

“This has never been so important as during COVID, where seafarers have been unable to disembark at port to buy phone cards and personal goods, exacerbated by prolonged time at sea with some crews onboard for up to 15 months away from their home and with limited communication.

“Each Wi-Fi box costs PANSW over $10,000 in data fees a year however, thanks to industry support, PANSW can now provide Wi-Fi boxes for the next three years in three of our busiest ports,” captain Holliday said.

Amelia Fitzgerald believes the difference a project such as Seafarers Connect and the humanitarian efforts of providing supplies to crews who can no longer get off a vessel in port is totally life affirming. 

"People outside the industry don’t really know about these guys stuck on the big ships. You only see it on social media but not in the big news, which is why this year’s World Maritime Theme of seafarers is so important in raising awareness.”