NAMMA Conference Addresses Seafarers’ Welfare in a Time of Uncertainty


by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

Business leaders, advocacy groups and social welfare agencies gathered online to celebrate a year of successful service to seafarers amid challenges and uncertainties. The North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA) 2021 Conference, “Leading and Learning through Uncertainty” merged industry professionals via a Zoom platform enabling a valuable cross-communication event.

In August, NAMMA provided a much-needed event for chaplains of North America to hear broader accounts of worldwide shipping during COVID-19 and to speak candidly with each other regarding the past year of isolated ministry they experienced among seafarers.

A panel addressing Building Relationships through the Pandemic provided vital information to attendees. Participants included Capt. Wayne Arguin, Director of Inspections and Compliance, Coast Guard Headquarters; David Heindel, Seafarers’ International Union Secretary-Treasurer and International Transport Workers’ Federation, Seafarers Section chairman; and Dr. Desai Shan, Memorial University of Newfoundland provided resources and insight beneficial to the expanding outreach port chaplains are facing.

The care of seafarers as central to the shipping industry resurfaced among presenters. Practices of reviewing inter-agency policies to ease the burden on seafarers, creating agency and global partnerships with seafarer’s welfare in mind, and understanding global markets in relationship to concern for seafarers, are critical to understand and act on.

“We cannot do our job without partnerships. We cannot move forward without more partnerships,” said Arguin. “We are very interested at the port levels and the sector levels.”

Creating awareness is a continual goal of port ministries that advocate for seafarers. Heindel noted that with 100-125 thousand crew changes per month, continued education of governments regarding how closed borders affect seafarers and the vital role they have in the supply chain is imperative.   

The two-day event enabled pandemic-weary workers to share best practices in break-out groups where personal stories of success were gleaned for ongoing service and support.

Practical ideas about pandemic modifications to ship visits and historic Christmas giving programs were included on a panel discussion possible by Zoom. Additionally, the Rev. Cristi Chapman, Executive Director, Seattle Seafarers’ Center and Chaplain Michelle DePooter, Ministry to Seafarers, contributed their insights in their respective ports regarding volunteer retention and personal shopping for seafarers, a new need among those with restricted shore leave. Navigating gangway visits and Christmas at Sea programs were contributions by Deacon John Archer, Stella Maris, and Joanne Bartosik of the Seamen’s Church Institute respectively.

 “Gangway visits (during the pandemic) are a door opener,” said Archer, “a way of connecting which we needed as much as they did.”

NAMMA welcomed keynote speaker, Alan T. Baker, Rear Admiral, USN, retired, former U.S. Marine Corps Chaplain, and author addressed the conference. Highlights from his recently published book, Foundations of Chaplaincy: A Practical Guide provided proven practices. Baker inspired listeners as he described healthy leadership characteristics, particularly among chaplains. He explained the risk of soul-less-ness in the support seafarers may receive from some sources. The need to meet the humanitarian need of “soul-care” is at the heart of chaplaincy.

Discussion developed with concern for seafarers’ mental health. Managing Director Kasper Søgaard, the head of Institutional Strategy and Development at the Global Maritime Forum looks at the big picture of the industry without losing sight of the seafarer. The Forum focuses on the future of global seaborne trade. He addressed the importance of responding to the mental health of seafarers, perhaps with as much vigor as we consider the health of the environment. SØgaard asked what long-term impacts of mentally strained workers in the supply chain may be. The Global Maritime Forum supports the Neptune Declaration.  

Times of shared prayer and spiritual reflection included in the conference served to support those who support seafarers as they continue work in the various ports of North American.

The following organizations were major sponsors and partners of the NAMMA 2021 conference: ITF Seafarers’ Trust, the TK Foundation, International Christian Maritime Association, The Mare Report, The Mission to Seafarers, SUI Brotherhood of the Sea, West Gulf Maritime Association, Stella Maris, NAMEPA, Port Welfare Partners, Diocese of Victoria, ISWAN, and Merchant Navy Welfare Board.  

Recordings of the sessions and media from the conference is available here.


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