This Christmas season if you’re at the beach looking out at the long line of merchant ships, waiting for their turn to enter Gladstone Harbour, spare a thought for the thirty or so seafarers working on board each one.
These men come from all corners of the globe – predominantly the Philippines – with Chinese sailors in increasing numbers, also Greek, Ukrainian and Russian – and they can spend up to twelve months at a time at sea, with very little contact with their families.
Dennis Andersen, Manager of the Gladstone Mission to Seafarers says that it’s vital they get the opportunity to get off what he calls “a floating prison” and be themselves for a while, if only for a short time:
Even a piece of fresh fruit can make all the difference: “People who’ve got trees full of mangoes they’d like to give away, we’ll come and collect them. These guys love mangoes, they love fresh food and this time of year, they’re falling on the ground, so if people want to donate mangoes we can get rid of as many as they bring in,” Dennis said.
Offering a lifeline to sailors who work very long hours for low wages in the most dangerous industry in the world, the Mission to Seafarers everyday work consists largely of transporting sailors from the wharf and getting them in contact with home.
“They want to be picked up and to get off the ship. We take them shopping, we work with the shipping agents – we help them repatriate, not very often but sometimes – this afternoon we’ve got a whole crew we’re doing a changeover for,” Dennis said.
“The main thing is the pastoral care side of that, the chance to sit beside them on the bus and to listen to them, explain what we do, and how we can help them.”
The Gladstone Mission to Seafarers is also looking for “gently used” Christmas trees and decorations with the aim that each of the around 84 ships expected over the festive season can leave Gladstone with a decorated tree. This is especially important for the many visitors to the Mission from the Philippines:
“In the Philippines, Christmas is a huge deal. They start dressing the trees in August. They absolutely love it,” Dennis said.
If you can help the many hundreds of seafarers who visit our port feel a little less homesick this Christmas, contact the Mission to Seafarers on the corner of Bryan Jordan drive at the Marina – you can find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MTSGladstone/