Coronavirus and those we serve

by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

As seafarers travel the world so does the current pandemic. Yet in light of associated challenges with the Coronavirus the opportunity to care for those living and working on ships remains a high priority. Ministries are adapting their practices as the news changes.

Seafarer center’s websites are posting World Health Organization facts, CDC notices and state-specific health information to benefit those they serve. Reports were that most centers in North America were open and willing to serve late on the day Saturday, yet as Sunday progressed, many reported closure on social media.

According to Executive Director Lesley Warrick at the Seafarers’ House Port Everglades, the center’s administrative office and Casa remain open and fully operational. They were seeing typical numbers of seafarers visiting the Casa seeking service and support. The pastoral care team is contacting vessels to provide for their needs. Regular fellowship visits on board are temporarily discontinued unless specifically requested by a Captain or if there is a critical care situation on board.

Though the Montreal Seafarers’ Center announced closing on Sunday, the ship visitors at the Montreal Ministry to Seafarers were still available, as allowed. Yet, they are taking the ships on a case by case basis. Sanitizing routines have increased in the center and some terminals are not granting shore leave, according to Michelle DePooter.

A fairly new leader in outreach to seafarers, Dana Blume seems confident in her center’s ability to conduct its services.

“We are doing okay,” said Blume at the Houston International Seafarers’ Center which remains “cautiously” open. Common areas are disinfected daily.

“When I spoke recently with our chaplains,” Blume said, “They stated the seafarers are aware and definitely concerned but not fearful. If they find themselves with extended contracts, that will cause them some angst. That would be tough for them and for their families.

We are watching and monitoring.”

Face-to-face visits in tight spaces are limited. Chaplains are still able to interact from the bottom of the gangway providing information and meeting specific needs as shore passes are not granted right now.  

Seafarers in the New Orleans region continue to contact the seafarers’ center where they dock.

“We are continuing to operate as long as all are safe,” said Reverend Philip Vandercook, Executive Director of Global Maritime Ministry. The opportunity to provide comfort and encouragement is very present.

 “The seafarers are very nervous. They don’t know what is going on. They are afraid for their families who live in countries where the virus is rampant,” said Vandercook, “particularly those who cannot get home do to travel conflicts.”

A bright point he noted is the U.S. Coast Guard reports no confirmed cases of the Coronavirus on U.S. cargo ships, and no shore leave has been denied yet.

COVID-19 presents a profound effect on seafarers and the shipping community. President Trump has declared a national state of emergency and has limited travel from many affected areas. Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau stated this week that Canadians should curtail all non-essential international travel and that the cruise ship season is suspended until July. The virus has hit home close to the Prime Minister’s family: Trudeau’s own wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, has tested positive for COVID-19 following a trip to the U.K.

The North American Maritime Ministry Association Canada has implemented measures to contain the COVID-19 virus. One of the measures identified by the Public Health Agency of Canada was to conduct risk assessments when determining the public health actions related to mass gatherings. NAMMA has decided that it would be best for the health and safety of our guests and other Canadians to postpone the spring 2020 NAMMA conference, which was scheduled for April 14 to 17, at the Novotel in Ottawa, Ontario.

Although unable to assemble face-to-face, NAMMA continues to strongly support its members and the international work among seafarers during these critical and challenging times. NAMMA continue to monitor the situation and will give further updates in the days ahead.

NAMMA President, Rev. Marsh L. Drege offers this prayer: O God, where hearts are fearful, grant courage and hope. Where anxiety is infectious, please grant peace and reassurance. Bring healing where needed and restore daunted and weakened spirits. Grant soaring wings and strengthened dreams. All these things we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Image: Seamen’s Church Institute of New York & New Jersey