September 1, 2018
Article by
Wendy King

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The Mission's mission to help seafarers

Many of us stop to look at the ships as they enter or depart our harbours, but it is easy to overlook the ‘invisible’ human beings who form the heart of all seafaring.  People are often surprised to learn that over 1,500,000 seafarers are on ships at sea at any one time.

It is sometimes easy to think of a life at sea as a ‘romantic’ adventure.  However, the reality is often very different, for many seafarers who are separated from loved ones for months and up to a year at a time.  Their work is often dangerous and exhausting.  Greater efficiencies in cargo handling techniques means that a ship's time in port is quite short, sometimes only hours, resulting in increasing difficulties for seafarers to come ashore.

As an island nation, approximately 99% of our goods, used by Australians every day, come by sea.  Hence, we all rely on seafarers. But seafarers also rely on us. Seafarers who are keen to have their contracts renewed, are unlikely to complain about inadequate safety standards, living conditions, reductions in or non-payment of wages, or many other things.  Being apolitical, the Mission to Seafarers is often able to intervene where others cannot. No matter what problem a seafarer is facing, they can turn to MTS for a friendly welcome, help, advice and practical support.

The services and facilities provided include:

  • Free scheduled  return transport between Port Botany and the MTS centre in Millers Point, Sydney, 4 times a day.
  • Help with emergencies including medical, personal, or work related e.g. exploitation. A recent compilation of 12 reports over 2 decades found that the suicide rate amongst seafarers was 4 times higher than Australia’s national average.
  • Free communication facilities including email, Internet and Skype - all vital links to home for isolated, lonely seafarers.
  • Visitation on vessels, by our chaplains, of crew unable to enjoy shore leave
  • Sim and recharge cards.
  • Currency exchange and money transfers.
  • A shop stocked with relevant items, free tea and coffee.
  • Freeview and Apple TV with news programs broadcast in their own language.
  • Table games e.g. table tennis, snooker, table soccer. Discount tickets to popular tourist attractions.

The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 was ratified by Australia in 2012 and came into global effect in August 2013.  Regulation 4.4 of the MLC is headed: ‘Access to shore-based welfare facilities’; its purpose: To ensure that seafarers working on board a ship have access to shore-based facilities and services to secure their health and well-being.
The Convention states that ‘these facilities should include:

  • Meeting and recreation rooms
  • Facilities for sports
  • Facilities for religious observances and for personal counselling’

The Convention also states that ‘Adequate means of transport at moderate prices should be available at any reasonable time in order to enable seafarers to reach urban areas from convenient locations in the port.’

The Mission to Seafarers, Sydney NSW, provides all these facilities, transport and more, free of charge to all seafarers.  However, the provision of these services needs funding.  The Convention also states that these facilities and services should be provided and financed ‘through one or more of the following:

  1. Grants from public funds
  2. Levies or other special dues from shipping sources
  3. Voluntary contributions from shipowners, seafarers, or their organisations; and
  4. Voluntary contributions from other sources’

Today, the Mission to Seafarers, Sydney NSW is sustained by (c), (d) and by drawing upon its limited financial reserves.  Sadly, the voluntary contributions from ‘shipowners, seafarers, or their organisations’ have diminished by 70% over the past 20 years.  The impact of these reductions has meant that we have been forced to reduce the frequency and scope of our welfare facilities and services in Sydney.  This trend needs to be reversed.

We are very grateful to those companies that view support for The Mission to Seafarers as an investment in their seafarers, their industry and their future.  Support for MTS, Sydney may be one of the very best investments a company may make towards ensuring its survival and prosperity.

Come and see our facilities first hand, call us on 9241 3009 and arrange a time.  Our opening hours are 12.30pm – 21.30pm.