Complementing the UK maritime sector for “getting creative” and finding new ways to “stay connected” during the coronavirus crisis, Maritime Minister, Robert Courts MP attended the first Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB) Covid-19 Seafarers’ Welfare Working Group meeting of 2021 and stated: “Seafarers are the lifeblood of our maritime sector, which is why the UK hosted the international summit on crew change and secured international agreement for seafarers to be recognised as key workers”. He added, “Government, industry, trade unions, ports and maritime charities have joined forces to support the welfare of these key workers and their families at home and abroad throughout the pandemic. Their drive and determination to coordinate efforts and respond collaboratively has been inspiring.” Short video here
MNWB Chairman, Captain Andrew Cassels, explains, “MNWB acts as the umbrella organisation for the UK’s Merchant Navy and fishing fleets and, as the primary infrastructure and support agency for frontline welfare organisations, we were able to highlight welfare issues immediately, joining together two of our national Working Groups to consider the pandemic challenges facing the sector and its seafarers.”
The Minister took the opportunity to attend a recent group meeting to thank representatives and their colleagues for their efforts and announced the joint winners of the annual ‘MNWB Award for Services to Seafarers’ Welfare 2020’. He was delighted to congratulate both Jane Davies (Nautilus Care) for her outstanding work at the Mariners’ Park Care Home and Nautilus Care and John Attenborough (Mission to Seafarers, Port Chaplain) for his tireless support of seafarers visiting the busy Port of Southampton. Short video here
Hosted and chaired by MNWB Chief Executive Peter Tomlin MBE, the Covid-19 Group’s aim is to identify challenges facing the maritime industry and its seafarers during the crisis as well as options for collaborative working to tackle them. Equally, acting as a National Seafarers’ Welfare Board, MNWB can usefully coordinate and monitor maritime welfare activities across the UK throughout the pandemic with the support of its Covid-19 Group partners and linkages to its nationwide network of Port Welfare Committees.
With over 30 representatives (list at end of press release) from across the maritime industry regularly attending each Zoom meeting, Mr Tomlin said, “I initially thought keeping a large group of dedicated and highly motivated professionals ‘to time’ might be a bit of a challenge”, so MNWB adopted an “Executive Summary” approach with each organisation presenting a short Covid-19 update. Notes of the meetings and details of the Covid-19 Resource Hub can be found at https://www.mnwb.org/maritime-updates
Rarely taking much longer than an hour to complete, the Zoom meetings have been welcomed by Working Group members as an “efficient” and “effective” way of keeping in touch and are now “pretty much the new normal” for the maritime charities. As a result, the Covid-19 Working Group will continue to ‘meet’ with government and industry colleagues to monitor the situation and keep each other updated. “More importantly,” added Mr Tomlin, “the meetings keep the spotlight on the welfare of seafarers and their families during these unprecedented and challenging times.”
Captain Cassels agreed saying, “95% of what we consume in the UK is still brought in by sea and we should never underestimate the vital role played by seafarers and fishers during this ongoing global pandemic, working 24/7 to keep food and supplies on our shelves.”
Unlike many other ‘key workers’, seafarers, fishers and their families have faced new and unexpected challenges during the crisis and being able to keep in touch continues to be the most important factor, especially when they are far away from home. Although most seafarers’ centres in the UK have had to close during Covid-19 it’s to the credit of the maritime charities that they continued to keep in touch with each other to ensure seafarers and fishers are looked after in whatever port they may find themselves.
Keeping in touch during lockdown has not been without its challenges,” said Mr Tomlin, “but I believe the Covid-19 Working Group has more than proved its worth at local, regional and national levels – as well as demonstrating the ‘creativity’ of the maritime sector to use technology and ‘stay connected’ even in these darkest of times”. Indeed, major maritime funding charities such as ITF Seafarers’ Trust, Seafarers UK, TK Foundation and Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society have committed millions of pounds to help those organisations/individuals in need.
Admitting to being “a big fan of technology” himself, Mr Tomlin was pleased to highlight the use and sector development of digital platforms such as ‘Chat to a Chaplain’, ‘Seafarer Support’, the forthcoming interactive IT Platform for the International Port Welfare Programme ‘Port Visitor’ and the innovative communications project for seafarers called the ‘MiFi project’.
Initially, managed by MNWB on behalf of the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, the ultimate aim of the MiFi project was to improve visiting seafarers’ connectivity and provide them with secure reliable access to the internet whilst in UK ports. As a result of its work on the MiFi project, the Government and Seafarers UK awarded MNWB additional funding to “improve seafarers’ communications” and extend the programme during the pandemic.
MNWB Deputy Chief Executive and Project Manager, Sharon Coveney explains, “Communications and access to good quality internet has always been seafarers’ number one welfare request when onboard and in port. Some but not all ships provide their crew members with access to good quality internet and our project will ensure that as many as possible have the opportunity to keep in contact with their loved ones during these difficult times. MNWB is proud to coordinate this worthwhile partnership initiative, which I am certain will have a hugely positive impact on seafarers’ mental health.”
“Adjusting to remote working and video-conferencing during lockdown has been a challenge for all of us in the maritime sector,” said Mr Tomlin, “but we’ve adapted very quickly and we’ve done it well. That said, as the pandemic rolls on I wonder just how much the ‘new normal’ with its ‘new technology’ will change the face of conventional meetings in the future?”
One thing Peter Tomlin was sure would never change was the maritime charities sector’s long tradition of working together to look after the welfare and wellbeing of its seafarers and their families, through groups such as the Covid-19 Working Group.
Covid-19 Seafarers' Welfare Working Group
Animation Project (Fishing Industry)
British Ports Association
Department For Transport
Guild of Benevolence of the IMarEST
Human Rights at Sea
Manchester Port Health Authority
Maritime and Coastguard Agency
Maritime Charities Group
Merchant Navy Association
Merchant Navy Welfare Board
Nautilus Welfare Fund
Queen Victoria Seamen's Rest / Tilbury Seafarers' Centre
Restore Support Network
Royal Merchant Navy Education Fund
Sailors' Children's Society
Seafarer's Advice & Information Line
Seafarers Hospital Society
Seamen's Christian Friend Society
The Mission to Seafarers
The Shipwrecked Mariners' Society
The Watch Ashore & Seafarers UK
UK Chamber of Shipping