Pope Francis has voiced his concern for stranded seafarers affected by the crew change crisis and urged governments to do all they can to repatriate them.
In his Angelus address yesterday (20th December), the Holy Father said, “The coronavirus pandemic has caused particular distress to seafarers. Many of them – an estimated 400,000 worldwide – are stuck on the ships beyond the terms of their contracts and are unable to return home.
“I ask the Virgin Mary, Stella Maris, to comfort these people and all those who live in difficult situations, and I urge governments to do everything possible so that they can return to their loved ones.”
In June, Pope Francis sent a video message of encouragement to seafarers, acknowledging the difficulties they face as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Holy Father also dedicated his prayer intention for the month of August to people of the sea, asking the faithful to pray for seafarers, fishers, and their families.
The Pope’s comments yesterday came as Catholic churches in many parts of the UK celebrated “Sea Sunday”: the day every year when church communities remember, pray for and support seafarers and fishers through the work of seafarers’ charity Stella Maris (formerly known as Apostleship of the Sea).
So far 45 countries have designated seafarers as key workers, which has helped alleviate the ongoing crew change crisis brought about by national border closures, visa restrictions, airline cancellations and other challenges which have prevented seafarers from returning home.
Martin Foley, chief executive of the charity said that, whilst the progress so far is encouraging, more governments needed to step up and make crew change a priority.
“Seafarers are among the heroes of this pandemic and we are grateful to Pope Francis for highlighting their plight. Unfortunately, because of the current situation, many who have finished their contracts will not be able to make it home for Christmas to be with their families,” he said.
This has left a psychological toll on many seafarers, Martin added. He said for its part, Stella Maris continues to visit seafarers on ships, when permitted, or meet them at the gangway, with social distancing in place.
“It’s important seafarers know that they are not forgotten, especially at this time of year, and that we are there to support them”.
See our Sea Sunday resources and appeal video at: https://www.stellamaris.org.uk/sea-sunday/