Global charity Apostleship of the Sea (AoS) is stepping up its support for seafarers' and fishers' in the Indian Ocean region, following a regional heads conference held in Cape Town, South Africa.
The organisation has drawn-up a new regional plan to improve communications between its port chaplains and with the media to ensure the voice and conditions of exploited seafarers and fishers are heard.
"Cases of abandonment and abuse are often overlooked, so AoS has come up with a new strategy to make sure these incidents are better referred from port to port. Often AoS port chaplains are the first welfare point of contact," said Fr Jacques-Henri David, AoS Indian Ocean Regional Coordinator.
"The regional heads are also working to encourage states to ratify ILO's Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188).
"We also agreed to look at providing support for particular seafarers centres, schooling for fishers' children and enhancing the structure of AoS in South Africa," he added.
The conference – which began on World Fisheries Day on 21 November and included delegates from Kenya, Mauritius, Seychelles and South Africa – was held to review the work of AoS in the region, particularly in its support of fishing communities in the area. (Listen to an interview on Vatican Radio about how AoS are supporting fishers and seafarers via this link).
Delegates heard about a range of challenges and problems affecting the region, such as climate change affecting fishing seasons, illegal and unreported and unregulated fishing – particularly by industrialised countries fishing huge amounts and therefore dramatically affecting artisanal fishing communities.
There were also cases of seafarers being abandoned and in some instances it took nearly two years before they were repatriated, sometimes without due wages being paid.
The conference also heard tragic cases of seafarers being victims of human trafficking.
"AoS is one of the oldest global fishers' organisations in world, doing impressive work in the region, such as the provision of schooling for fishers' children in Madagascar, providing support with fishers' wives associations and working alongside fishers many of whom work as a means of survival in dugouts or boats with small motors," said Fr Jacky (photo below).
He added, "The challenge for fishers at this level is to have their voice heard especially when fishing grounds are exploited by industrial fishing, and AoS works to get their concerns known.
“There are still many places where seafarers work without valid employment contracts and seafarers in the region who cannot return to work having been traumatised after being captured by pirates."
The meeting also heard that there are plans to establish schools in South Africa and Kenya to train prosecutors on how to handle cases of Illegal-Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Archbishop Jabulani Adatus Nxumalo, Archbishop of Bloemfontein and AoS Bishop Promoter in South Africa also attended the conference. In his opening address he praised AoS' ministry saying it is a 'life-giving apostolate' to the many seafarers and fishers it supports.
The Archbishop underlined the continuing importance of AoS' ministry, which he said "blunted the axe so that the pain is not so sharp" of seafarers and fishers suffering in dramatic, but not unknown cases of abandonment and physical abuse.
He noted AoS' 'life-giving apostolate' and how through its ministry we uniquely hear of the "agonies and hopes of many and also of what the grace of God can achieve."
On the evening of 22 November, a moving memorial Mass was celebrated by the conference delegates and seafarers in Cape Town port for recently deceased AoS national director, Terry Whitfield, who had laboured for decades to ensure the work of AoS prospered in the region.