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A seafarer's home away from home

A seafarer's home away from home
Maridel Martinez 25/11/2022


*There are around 50,000 registered merchant ships in the world.
*Majority of seafarers are from the Philippines followed by Russia, Indonesia, China and India.
*The Stella Maris Seafarers' Centre is open to all seafarers.

In February 1972, Stella Maris Seafarers’ Centre in Melbourne opened its doors to tired and homesick workers. Many longed to feel their feet set firmly on the ground after a long period at sea.

In February 1972, Stella Maris Seafarers’ Centre in Melbourne opened its doors to tired and homesick workers. Many longed to feel their feet set firmly on the ground after a long period at sea.

Seamus Quinn, the president of Stella Maris Seafarers’ Centre , describes the hub as "home away from home," and a place where seafarers can find comfort, relax, recharge and reconnect.

"We have a chapel where people can pray - no matter your nationality or faith, it is open for everyone," he shares.

There are around 50,000 registered merchant ships from 150 countries. Many of them dock in Melbourne at any given time, and the centre is open to assist them.

Because most seafarers are paid in American dollars, the centre has Australian currency available for exchange.

"We exchange their money to Australian dollars so they can buy food. We have a shop stocked with essential items and souvenirs to bring home," Lee-Anne Diano, who oversees the day to day needs of the centre, says.

COVID changed everything

When the COVID pandemic hit and every port and city was in lockdown, merchant ships continued bringing in essential items such as food and medicine. However, crew members were not allowed to disembark and did not have access to a lot of things. This changed how the centre operated.

Quinn shares, "The whole world turned upside down for us. We weren’t allowed in the ships, and they weren’t allowed to leave the ships. We communicated with them through social media and telephone calls, but we had to change the way we did things.

"We organised care packs through the help of civic organisations and we would leave them at the bottom of the ship for pick up."

Bringing essentials to essential workers
The lockdown meant only staff were able to obtain special permits and carry out the centre’s work. They coordinated with relevant agencies like the Australian Maritime Safety Board to ensure that vital services were delivered.

The staff was able to provide prescription medication to seafarers through Seamus’ son, a Melbourne-based GP.

After verifying their identity, medical condition and medication, the scripts were ordered from the local pharmacy and delivered once the ships docked. It was a pooling of very limited resources that helped them survive.

Many seafarers were unable to access the COVID vaccine and Diano, who is also a registered nurse, made herself available to anyone who needed a jab.

She says, "I would prepare the vaccines and we would travel to the docks and give anyone who needed a vaccine.

"Until today, we continue to provide this service with a third, or sometimes, even fourth dose and it helps them to get home. That’s what its about, to make sure they get home to their families."

Pinoy seafarers and friends
For more than a decade, Filipino June Villadolid has been working at sea.

When he met the love of his life, he decided to spend more time on land.

Along with his wife, Christine and child, they now call Melbourne home.

While he has since retired, he couldn’t leave the seaman in him behind. After a year of volunteer work, June is now employed as Stella Maris’ Seafarer Welfare officer.

Villadolid says, "I will always be a seaman. Working here gives me the opportunity to reconnect with my fellow seafarers and share good memories."

He says that for his fellow Filipino seafarers, the chapel has become one of the most important areas in the centre.

"Many seafarers, mostly Filipinos and Catholics would ask us for a priest to bless their ships, particularly when someone dies at sea."

Holy water is made available at the entrance of the chapel for them to bring aboard their ships.

"They feel more secure when they have a bottle of holy water with them. Faith is an integral part of a seafarer's life."


There are about two million seafarers around the world. Majority are from the Philippines followed by Russia, Indonesia, China and India

Villadolid shares, "Many Filipinos feel more comfortable when they are able to express themselves in their own language. They are able to share all their concerns and problems with me as I can relate and speak Filipino."

Supporting seafarers when it comes to collecting back wages from overseas, Villadolid shares that they try to do their best for the workers because "Life at sea is very difficult and we are here to make sure they get all the help and support they deserve."

Love is an open door
It was love that led volunteers to the Stella Maris Seafarers Centre in Melbourne.

Quinn has been volunteering for the past forty-five years, a childhood crush motivated him to join the centre.

"I was seventeen years old when I started volunteering. I saw the work they did and was inspired to help."

He outgrew his childhood crush and moved on to his now-wife Jo who he also met at the centre.

Together they continue to serve the centre.

"I saw her one time at the front of the stage talking and that was it. Since then, we haven’t stopped volunteering."

Diano served as a volunteer for thirty eight years before she became a paid staff in December 5, 2021.

It was her husband, a Filipino and retired seaman that brought her to the Little Collins Street centre.

"We came into the centre with a friend of his - a seaman who needed to exchange foreign currency. We walked into the centre and spoke with some women who approached me about volunteering."

This year, Filipinos in Melbourne will be celebrating Stella Maris Seafarers’ Centre’s bayanihan spirit with 'Pasko sa Melbourne 2022, Alay sa Marinero’.