Spiritual support, physical presence and justice for fishers: challenges for the ministry to seafarers

Ministry to seafarers faces three challenges: 

  • a more pronounced spiritual dimension to the ministry,
  • a stronger presence among seafarers and
  • more emphasis on involvement with fishers especially as far as justice issues are concerned.

Chris Viljoen,  port chaplain of ICMA member the Christian Seaman’s Organisation (CSO) working from the Port of Durban, South Africa, identified these three challenges facing seafarers ministry in a doctorate thesis successfully submitted at the University of Pretoria.

Dr. Chris Viljoen, Christelike Seemansorganisasie

In the abstract to the PhD, Viljoen states:

Seafaring is still a dangerous profession where the seafarers many times find themselves being powerless in situations of injustice. On ships there is a lot of diversity. Men and women from many different religions and cultures have to sail together. Occasionally this causes tension between seafarers, but mostly they are working and living together in harmony. A bigger concern than conflict is that diversity might cause social isolation. Seafarers are willing to endure a lot of hardship and especially seafarers from developing countries are making this sacrifice in order to provide a better future for their families. The relationship between seafaring and the family is an ironic one because the seafarers sail in order to provide for the family, but at the same time sailing takes them away from their loved ones. From the perspective of the researcher three general weaknesses were found as far as the ministry to seafarers is concerned: At times there is lack of a spiritual dimension to the ministry, secondly there is a need for a stronger presence among the seafarers and thirdly more emphasis should be put on involvement with fishers especially as far as justice issues are concerned.

The PhD expounds the themes:

A Shipmate called Danger
God and faith in a multi-religious environment
Injustices onboard: floating prisons
Women onboard
Coping with and appreciating diversity: many cultures under one roof
Seafarers and their family relations
Seafarers and seafarers mission
Positive narratives about being a seafarer: a profession of hope.
Relationships between seafarers: friendships and fistfights

Viljoen and the CSO have made the thesis available to International Christian Maritime Association members.  Links to the publication are available on the ICMA Publications page.  CLICK HERE for the Publications page