Cleveland Seamen’s Service Provides Christmas Cheer

Article audio (courtesy of Don Sheetz)

by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

Though we are all supposed to dream of a White Christmas, snow and ice can be challenging for seafarers. This is true on the Great Lakes in the winter when things freeze over.

This year, by surprise, a Christmas celebration took place onboard a ship docked at the port in Cleveland, Ohio.

Thanks to the Cleveland Seamen’s Service, an outreach founded in 1963, Christmas songs could be heard on the Qamuik, a container ship docked at Port Cleveland on Lake Erie.  

“This is the first year this has happened in an organized basis,” said Operations Manager Erik Kretzmann, who oversees the work of the Cleveland Seamen’s Service. “Historically, CSS does nothing at Christmas because of ice.

The last ship is leaving tonight,” he said on Dec. 19.

Because of weather changes over time, the shipping season has begun to stretch further into the winter months and now, a few last-minute voyages are pulling up anchor in December.   

Last week, the Qamuik’s shipping agent contacted CSS requesting a Christmas tree and some decorations for the crew’s Christmas at sea. The plan is to be in the Atlantic, south of Newfoundland on Dec. 25. In a scurry of support, Kretzmann found some financing and began to fulfill the request. CSS received some support from the North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA) which had some remaining Christmas funds available and contributed.

In short order, volunteers wrangled a Christmas tree and decorations along with Christmas care packages for the mixed crew of Filipino, Russian, and Dutch seafarers. The décor and gifts were assembled and prepared for delivery. Each package contained socks, gloves, watch caps, and chocolate candies. Enough donations were provided to deliver gifts to an additional ship which happened to still be in port.

CSS sees between 800 to 1,000 seafarers annually before the seaway closes from January to March.

“Our goal is to visit every ship in port,” said Kretzmann, who became interested in the industry at age 30.

“I got hooked on it while living in Duluth,” he said. “It amazed me. Ships are the largest man-made moving objects on the planet.”  

Now, at age 70, he cares for those who make their living on the mammoth vessels.

When the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, civic leaders in Cleveland noted seafarers and began welcoming them. The vision grew quickly. Crews from Northern Europe were in port for up to two weeks at a time. People hosted them in their homes, provided movies, soccer games and a healthy break from the oceans.

Today, turn-around times are much quicker and crews are mostly Asian. There is limited time for visits.

The December deliveries including caroling, was a breath of refreshment for the Qamuik crew.

“The crew was very pleased and hospitable,” said Kretzmann. “The shipping agent was pleased and the port authority was pleased too.”

On December 25, a Christmas tree will be erected in a mess hall of a mammoth ship on the Atlantic Ocean, because a group of Cleveland volunteers were able to say “yes” to a simple request.

Photo: Cleveland Seamen’s Service


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