“Because of the absence of shore leave, and restricted port entry for ships visiting, seafarers on board the vessels suffer isolation, severe physical and mental stress that brings many crews on the verge of desperation and, unfortunately, committing suicide.”
“We have reports of many seafarers with serious and potentially life-threatening medical conditions which are unrelated to COVID-19. These still need emergency medical care in land-based national hospitals, which unfortunately were denied them or delayed until they had to be carried on stretchers.”
Even when workers reached their homelands, they had to undergo quarantine or face “discrimination or stigmatization” because they were seen as bears of the coronavirus, the cardinal said.
He argued that seafarers were also suffering because “some unscrupulous shipowners, crewing agencies and managers” were using the virus as an excuse to ignore workers’ rights, including access to a proper wage and safe conditions.
He also noted that in the first three months of 2020 piracy attacks and attempted assaults on vessels had increased by 24%.
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“To all of the experiences above of the seafarers, which describe a dangerous form of livelihood, we must now consider the real threat of losing even this precarious livelihood, because it will mean for many the total loss of income and inability to assume social and domestic responsibilities, such as, payment of utilities bills, education of dependents, welfare of family,” he said.
Turkson recalled a personal message sent to seafarers by Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). In the April 20 message, Lim told workers: “I want you to know that you are not alone. You are not forgotten.”
The cardinal said: “You are not forgotten: the Stella Maris chaplains and volunteers will be with you in the next months when your resilience will be put to test and we will try to respond to your material and spiritual needs. We will be always at your side, raising your concerns, upholding your labor and human rights, and preventing discrimination.”
The cardinal’s message was accompanied by a prayer composed by the Dicastery and inspired by the message for Sea Sunday 2020.
It read: “Holy Virgin Mary, sign of the maternal face of God, with filial confidence we turn to you in the current pandemic. Keep in your Immaculate Heart the seafarers, the fishermen and their families, who with their work are ensuring the human family with food and other basic needs.”
“Sign of the closeness of the Father, support them in their trials and protect them from all dangers: isolation and severe physical and mental stress, long periods spent on board ships, distance from their family, friends and from their own country, fear of contamination, piracy attacks and attempted attacks, armed robberies.”
“Sign of the mercy of the Son, help Stella Maris chaplains and volunteers to listen to the people of the sea, trying to respond to their material and spiritual needs, standing by their side, raising their concerns, upholding their labor rights and preventing discrimination.”
“Sign of the fruitfulness of the Spirit and advocate of seafarers, bring unscrupulous ship-owners, crewing agencies and managers back to the way of justice who, using the excuse of the pandemic, dismiss their obligations towards seafarers. Let us stand in solidarity with those who have lost their income.”
“Sign of consolation and sure hope, tenderly embraces coronavirus victims, especially the seafarers who committed suicide.”
“Star of the Sea, pray for us. Amen!”