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Pope Francis to seafarers: You are not alone

Pope Francis to seafarers: You are not alone
Carlos C. Salinas June 24, 2020

In a video message, Pope Francis recently expressed his gratitude to seafarers and fisherfolk for their help in feeding humanity despite the risks involved.

The risks that the Pope alluded to were those caused by coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), which has been wreaking havoc on people’s lives and livelihoods across the world. He noted that the pandemic has inflicted untold suffering on seafarers, making them endure “long periods spent aboard ships without being able to disembark, separation from families, friends and native countries and fear of infection.”

The Pope’s message was direct, reassuring and heartwarming: “Know that you are not alone and that you are not forgotten. Your work at sea often keeps you apart from others, but you are close to me in my thoughts and prayers, and in those of your chaplains and the volunteers of Stella Maris.”

Stella Maris (Star of the Sea), a historic title for the Virgin Mary, is a guiding spirit at sea. But the Pope was also referring to the Apostleship of the Sea, a charity supporting seafarers, whose patron saint is Stella Maris.

At a time when the situation calls for prolonged quarantine and isolation, nothing gives greater hope that this message of gratitude and compassion from the Holy Father.

The Philippines has some 500,000 sailors, almost one-third of the world’s 1.6 million seafarers. Thousands of them have been stranded at sea as a result of the pandemic. The Apostleship of the Sea has conducted a survey of the impact of Covid-19 on seafarers. The survey disclosed that the majority of the 363 respondents, mainly from the Philippines, said their most urgent need was to secure a new contract and return to work, while 69 percent said the pandemic has made a significant impact on their finances. They also said it has given them physical, emotional, and mental anguish.

The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), aware of the deleterious effects of prolonged stay at sea, has sought the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to allow the mass repatriation of Filipino seafarers.

International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary General Kitack Lim expressed concern over this, saying that the situation represents a “humanitarian crisis.” “Governments must allow shipping to continue moving by getting seafarers to their homes, and to their ships to work,” the secretary general said in an interview.

It is our hope that this can be done soon. Tomorrow, June 25, is the 10th anniversary of the IMO’s Day of the Seafarer. This year’s theme celebrates seafarers as key workers. In 2011, former President Benigno Aquino 3rd designated June 25 as “Day of the Filipino Seafarer” by virtue of Proclamation 183. It is a day honoring our “sailing ambassadors” for their invaluable contribution to the country’s national growth.

As I write this, the IMO, along with the International Labor Organization (ILO), business and government leaders and workers’ representatives begin to meet to chart a way through this crisis. The meeting’s main objective is to propel urgent action to rescue these key workers, who have been working longer than their contracts have stipulated.

Margi Van Gogh, head of Supply Chain and Transport Industries of the World Economic Forum, has pointed out that “cohesive action at a global level is needed to keep fatigued seafarers safe — protecting the lives and livelihoods of these men and women who keep the fragile, interconnected global supply system functioning is the best way we can now serve those who serve us.”

“Taking care of the people who move our goods and enable trade leads to job creation. This is central to securing lives and livelihoods,” Van Gogh added. “Cohesive global leadership from public, private and civil society leaders is necessary to solve this deepening crisis. Cohesive leadership is also vital for the ‘great reset,’ enabling us to build back better — a sustainable global supply system is at the heart of this.”

Pope Francis knows it. The people who are conferring right now to find our way through this crisis know it. Just as a century ago, a philosopher named William James knew it: “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” And the best way to show appreciation for our key workers is to look after their welfare. As one author pointed out, clapping may be a nice gesture, but it cannot be heard at sea.