MTS Brisbane navigating uncharted waters

Reflections

“As a result of current physical distancing measures and the need for many volunteers to stay in their homes, the human contact element of our role is marginalised, and our usual services curtailed. While this was initially perplexing, it has made us think more laterally and creatively, so our important ministry for seafarers may continue,” says Captain Ross Nicholls from Mission to Seafarers Brisbane

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Like thousands of other Australian charities and other organisations operating in these extraordinary times, Mission to Seafarers (MTS) Brisbane has also had to close its brick and mortar doors, although our ministry continues.

In its 127-year history these measures are unprecedented, and it is particularly difficult for a charity of any type to have to say, “sorry, we’re not open”. This concept is contrary to our values and the principal reason why we exist – to provide human contact and face-to-face care and love to international seafarers. Many of the nearly 70,000 seafarers that visit our port alone each year also rely on Mission to Seafarers Brisbane as a hub to communicate with their loved ones.

Shipping has continued despite the coronavirus leading to the closure of borders, as it is an essential industry for the purposes of global trade – the lifeblood of countries and communities. Sadly, the people behind this global trade, albeit at the sharp end of the delivery process – our seafarers – have been further isolated with the additional restrictions placed on them, both locally and internationally. To be working under marginal conditions, in an already isolated and often hostile environment for up to nine months, is not a role many of us would consider.

These conditions are further exacerbated by border restriction measures required to manage the spread of COVID-19. Today the seafarers are confined to their ships, with little or no communication with the outside world and many have been unable to travel home, extending their contracts beyond the usual nine-month period. Only recently have certain relaxations been made to allow some of them to travel from or to the ship under strict Border Force controlled guidelines.

Our services down at the Port of Brisbane are underpinned by our people – our supervisors and volunteers. Physical distancing measures and the need for many of our people to shelter in their homes due to being high-risk, as a result of age or pre-existing health conditions, since mid-March have meant insufficient people to provide our seven-day-a-week 12-hours-per-day service. As a result of current physical distancing measures and the need for many volunteers to stay in their homes, the human contact element of our role is marginalised, and our usual services curtailed. While this was initially perplexing, it has made us think more laterally and creatively, so our important ministry for seafarers may continue.

We have subsequently developed an ‘Online Shop’ for seafarers to order essential items before they arrive in Brisbane with free delivery to their ship. Two wonderful Chaplains The Rev’d Stephen Briggs and The Rev’d Ian McGilvray have commenced bi-weekly ‘reflection’ videos, which are posted on our Facebook page. With the assistance of Maritime Safety Queensland and other local industry leaders, a ‘care package’ donation campaign was also rolled out, in conjunction with the Catholic Stella Maris Seafarers’ Centre in Wynnum, to provide seafarers with activities to help alleviate their isolation.

These small measures have increased the contact we are making with our seafarers, bringing them closer to our Mission via technology and alternative means of ministry.

We are blessed that our Chaplains, who are utilising their newfound online ministry skills, are ensuring our faith-based services remain available to our seafarers and by extension to our staff, volunteers, supporters and social media ‘followers’.

We also continue to connect regularly via online conferencing with other MTS centres around Australia to provide support and share ideas, while receiving guidance from international MTS offices on what is happening globally.

In these extraordinary times, we are responding to and meeting the challenges that come our way. That is the nature of our dedicated and generous people.

If you are interested in donating to the seafarers ‘care package’ campaign, please email us via tfa@mtsbrisbane.org.au or message us on Facebook.

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