A pastor supported by ship owners

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Toon van de Sande
Toon van de Sande

In our series of articles celebrating International Year of the Seafarer, Pastor Toon van der Sande describes how chaplains and ship owners can work together for seafarers.

Every ship has an owner, responsible for the seafarers who work on his ship.

Inside the companies, people have to care for seafarers, as seafarers have to take care of the ship and eachother. Outside the companies, there are welfare workers and pastors. Most of them outside have no relationships with the ship owners. They don’t know them and they seldom meet. I think both sides have vague ideas about each other’s work. That is a pity!

I am a pastor working inside and outside the company. Outside because I am independent. Inside because I am a pastor working for a foundation that is 95% financially supported by ship owners.

Pastoral care onboard after a crisis
Pastoral care onboard after a crisis

I work as a flying and sailing pastor for the Dutch Dredging Industry, visiting their projects and ships abroad for 100 days for 100 days each year. The result is that everyone in the company knows me by name. I feel very welcome when I visit their ships, but also the head offices, having regular contact with staff and highest management. Based on that history, I am asked to join the ship when there is a crisis or an emergency: deadly accident, capsizing, piracy etc..

Onboard then I am a pastor, meaning not a lawyer, security-officer, agent, psychologist or company representative. Everyone knows how many people show up after a crisis onboard. They all have a job to do and are very busy. The day of a captain in such times is overloaded with meetings, investigations, writing reports and organizing a lot of things. Amongst all those people, I am normally three days on a ship trying not to interfere with all the work that has to be done. I am just there for the seafarers, talking with them when there is time and space and an urgency.

“How are you?”

And they tell me their stories about what happened, stories about responsibility and feelings of pain and guilt. In case of a deadly accident, they talk with me about the family back home waiting for the body and the personal belongings. They talk about their own life, fear and hope. When needed, I can give them some advice about seeking professional help later when it appears that they are not coping well with the trauma.

At the end of my visit I feel a real pastor, when I organize a memorial and blessing for the crew in which they say goodbye to their colleague and also take up their routine in a safe spirit. After the memorial, I have to leave the ship, returning after a year to meet them again.

All this work I am able to do because I am inside and outside. Some owners say I am ’part of their family’, others say that my work is ‘added value’. They mean to express the same. They value my work as a pastor.

Pastor Toon Van de Sande is the Secretary of ICMA member Stichting Pastoraat Werkers Overzee based in the Netherlands.

International Year of the Seafarer

Articles will appear through the year covering different themes relating to the lives of seafarers and the opportunities that this year might bring to improve their welfare. The ICMA Secretariat welcomes comments and suggestions relating to these articles.

Previous articles in this series

Chaplain Andrew Wright on the Disgrace of Exploitation in the Fishing Sector
Rev Johan Smith on a Port Chaplain’s Perspective
Rev Marge Lindstrom on Justice and Port Chaplaincy

Canon Ken Peters on Justice for Seafarers
Rev Chuang Yueh-Han on Caring for Fishers