Adapting Care due to Coronavirus


by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

Adaptability is the marker for successful care among seafaring centers regarding the Coronavirus. Ship visiting is normally a primary contact for meeting seafarer’s needs. The opportunity for face-to-face contact is slimming quickly as fear of the spreading epidemic rises. Regardless of location, North American centers are wrestling to provide care in new ways.

The mood on ships has changed according to Chaplain Steve Finnesy.

“Seafarers are seriously concerned about exposure, viewing those who board their vessel as a potential carrier and are apprehensive to get off,” said Finnesy in Tampa, Fla. where crews of five cruise ships are on lockdown for two weeks and other vessels need to be contacted.

“I will start wearing a mask for their comfort when I board vessels.”

Seafaring is a work of unforeseeable variables. However, responding to a pandemic is new for everyone.

“Seafarers are conditioned to hardship,” said Kent Williams who manages a center in Fort Vancouver, Wash. But passing through an invisible, global health threat is tough.

Outreach is changing daily with new directives from political and religious governing bodies. Port Authorities, non-profit boards, the Coast Guard and ship’s captains are weighing in.  Fluctuation is the new certainty. 

The Fort Vancouver center is taking a 2-week pause since all of the volunteers are over age 70 and ship visits are suspended. Seafarers remain onboard.

“We need to find a balance between the mandates from Christ and a level-headed response,” said Williams, a 16-year chaplain.

“One way we can continue to care is to create a ditty bag-like outreach,” suggested Williams. If small packages like the Christmas give away could be delivered to the gangway, at least the seafarers would know we care.

Port chaplains share a targeted common mission. They can brainstorm well. The deep commitment they share for this specific population motivates action amid the variables.

Galveston Seafarers Center’s Port Chaplain, Karen Parsons, identifies with the seafarers concerns and is in high gear with new methods of outreach.

“We need to continue to minister without our physical presence,” she said. “Developing an extensive correspondence ministry is possible. We can send care packages, write letters, and offer prayers for seafarers and their families. If we are deemed non-essential people for boarding ships, we can send our message with essential ones.”

The feedback from Galveston concurs with Tampa and others that the seafarers are very concerned about their home countries and nervous about disease transfer with agents and others who board their ships.

The Philippines announced strict home quarantine measures for half of its population, the shutdown of transport networks and ordered businesses to close or operate remotely, according to Reuters on Monday. Philippine President Duterte said, “Make no mistake, we are in the fight of our lives.” 

This has led to added anxiety and extended contracts for at least two Filipino seafarers in Port Manatee.

“We need to let seafarers know that they are not alone,” Parsons said.

Prayer is an act of care. Taking a step to arrest fears and bring comfort is within our ability.  Parsons has a practice of praying a blessing for vessels.

“Blessing their ship is really important to them.”

Maintaining positive relationships with others who board vessels is important. This can be a means of reaching seafarers with “care” data as well.

Chris O’Brien works in Gulfport, Miss. where Dole, a regular tenant, has denied all shore leave. The owner of three ships from Mexico which dock Port Manatee has also decided no shore leave is available.

O’Brien independently visits the ships he oversees. He continues to use Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp. These social web options work well for interaction and may be avenues for others to explore.

Although other seafarers may have shore leave, coordinating transportation and a comfort-level for seafarers to disembark seems sketchy at best.

So, how do we care for people with such fluctuating circumstances?

Know that our challenges never surprise God and that he is with us in our struggles. Show daily consideration for others onboard to calm their fears. View new challenges as opportunities. Find ways to keep our senior volunteers engaged electronically with seafarers. Stay in touch with each other. Share our ideas and provide timely feedback on what is working so we can develop our best practices.

 Finally, remain fluid in our thinking and constant in our care.

About: Susan Huppert is a writer for The MARE Report, the news magazine for the North American Maritime Ministry Association. With members in more than 50 ports around North America, NAMMA’s mission is to support those in maritime ministry with professional development, fellowship, and advocacy.

Image: Chaplain Gary Roosma, Ministry to Seafarers Vancouver (Facebook)


NAMMA members receive a print copy of The MARE Report, NAMMA’s annual magazines for seafarer’s welfare professionals