Category Archives: Advocacy

Regional Conference commits to priorities for ministry

The final report from the ICMA Regional Conference held in Odessa concludes with a set of statements by the delegates that underline the region’s commitment to caring for the welfare of seafarers.

The outgoing Regional Coordinator, AOS Deacon Ricardo Rodriguez Martos from Barcelona, Spain, wrote that the region was committed to pursue the following goals and priorities in delivering care to seafarers and families in the Black Sea, Mediterranean and Middle East Region of the international Christian Maritime Association.

  1. Port Welfare Committees: PWC’s are very important for achieving more efficient assistance to seafarers. The region’s chaplains would promote such committees in each port.
  2. Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme: In cases of emergency or of piracy, port authorities, ship owners and the ship’s agents should be aware of the important role that port chaplains can play in welfare response and first emergency response.
  3. ICMA Code of Conduct: To enhance ecumenical working, chaplains, volunteers and welfare workers from ICMA’s members should follow the ICMA Code of Conduct.
  4. Networking:  Being connected to one another benefits seafarers and should be an ongoing goal of all ICMA members’ personnel and centres.
  5. Cruise ship ministry:  Given that access to cruise ships is not easily gained, a short and simple directory of ports and welfare providers in the region would be produced and distributed among crews and crew coordinators on these ships.
  6. MLC 2006: ICMA centres should promote the ratification of MLC 2006 in those countries where it is not yet incorporated in national legislation,  and are urged to  collaborate in its implementation in all ports of the region.
  7. Ship visiting: Given the fast turnaround and workload while in port, many seafarers have no time to go ashore. Therefore, ICMA personnel should prioritise ship visiting
  8. Onboard welfare:  Chaplains could facilitate groups on board that care for the welfare of fellow crew members.  These groups could form informal welfare committees or prayer groups.
  9. Seafarers Rights:  Chaplains are encouraged to engage advocacy for seafarers rights

This ICMA Regional Conference was made possible by a grant received from the ITF Seafarers Trust.  ICMA thanks the Trust for its generous support.

CLICK HERE for the full report from the Regional Conference





 The Mission of ICMA

Membership of ICMA carries an obligation to abide by the Constitution of the Association and of this Code of Conduct.

The seafarers of the world remind us of the ultimate purpose of all God’s plans:” And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24,14 NIV). In a fragmented and divided society, it is ICMA ’s mission to promote unity, peace and tolerance. ICMA was founded for promoting and co-ordinating Christian ecumenical co-operation in maritime ministry.

Chaplains and staff of all ICMA Member Societies at local, national and international level are therefore to:

  1. Show an unconditional love to the seafarer as a human being, created in the image of God, and a sincere respect for her/his personal values and beliefs;
  2. Serve seafarers and their dependants of all nationalities, religions, cultures, language, sex or race;
  3. Fight prejudice, intolerance and injustice of any kind;
  4. Respect the diversity of ICMA Members and Churches and to develop that which unites them;
  5. Respect the loyalty of those engaged in maritime ministry to their particular ecclesiastical discipline and tradition and refrain from proselytising seafarers;
  6. Co-operate with persons, organisations and institutions, Christian or non-Christian, which work for the welfare of seafarers.


CLICK HERE for a printable version of the ICMA Code of Conduct

CLICK HERE for the French version of the ICMA Code of Conduct


A Hijacking

To be able to say that Kapringen – A Hijacking is good as a film, would be a fitting tribute to the seafarers and the shipping company whom it depicts.  In fact, it is a very good film indeed.

The Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP) presented a pre-screening of Kapringen – A Hijacking in London.  The special screening to an invited audience was sponsored by the ICC International Maritime Bureau, the International Chamber of Shipping / ISF, The Nautical Institute, Videotel and INCE & CO.

The film, inspired by a real incident of piracy, follows both the crew and the company through the ordeal from capture to release.  It makes for 100 minutes of harrowing viewing.  In the panel discussion that followed, IMO Secretary General Mr Koji Sekimizu said that while, after seeing such a film, one normally leaves the theatre relieved to return to reality, this film is too close to home:  it is our reality.

The film’s focus is the effect of piracy on its characters.  Pilou Asbæk  delivers a riveting performance as the ship’s cook who is left damaged by the events.  Equally captivating is Søren Malling as the company negotiator.  Clearly, piracy leaves all those affected devastated.  Gary Skjoldmose Porter essentially plays himself: he was the company’s security adviser during the actual events that inspired the film.  He brings such credibility to the role that one is drawn into the claustrophobic atmosphere of the negotiating room.  Speaking after the screening he said that the filming of those scenes was done on location where the negotiations were conducted.  The reenactment  of the negotiations brought back difficult memories for him.   The location and genial direction of Tobias Lindholm clearly paid off.  The film has deservedly won awards at the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, in addition to several accolades in its native Denmark.

There are no heroes in this film. Seafarers and company bosses are ordinary people who seek only to get on with the business of everyday life.   They are catapulted into extraordinary events.  That they survive is in itself heroic.

It is the seafarers behind this film that should be brought to mind; those 79 still held captive, and those who, upon release, now find it tough to deal with life.  It is to assist these seafarers that the MPHRP exists.  The International Christian Maritime Association is a member of this cross-industry alliance.  We bring to piracy response a network of welfare responders and religious support for seafarers and their families.  ICMA members are eager to do more.  Our members are willing to work with the industry to provide fellowship and humanitarian assistance to affected seafarers and families.

Kapringen – A Hijacking is a thought provoking film.  It deserves an audience for its own sake.  For us who care for seafarers, even more so.

CLICK HERE to see the trailer.  

Chaplains: common sense, not therapy

Chaplains’ responses to seafarers affected by piracy requires common sense, not therapy.  Pastors should be professional in fulfilling their limited but crucial role, and establish themselves as a vital resource.  

The ICMA Regional Conference in Odessa was addressed by the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme.  Toon van de Sande delivered a paper to raise awareness of the Programme’s work and its ideals for ICMA’s continued partnership.

Toon van de Sande (pictured with Alexander (left), the MPHRP representative in the Ukraine) was previously a chaplain of the ICMA member Stichting Pastoraat Werkers Overzee, emphasised the need for training in appropriate responses to seafarers affected by piracy.  The Programme valued highly ICMA’s participation in the industry-wide alliance to care for seafarers and maritime families affected by piracy.  ICMA was a founding partner of the MPHRP. The need for a continuum of care, a concept devised by psychologist Dr. Marion Gibson, is central to understanding responsiveness to the humanitarian needs of seafarers in crisis. The role of chaplains can best be described as humanitarian first aid.  Welfare response is common sense, not therapy. Chaplains are chaplains, not lawyers, inspectors, mental health professionals, or anything but chaplains.  Our work has limitations, but has immense value. Chaplains should limit themselves to their role, and be the best they can be in delivering that role.  Evidence suggests that the role of chaplains may reduce the eventuality of complications after traumatic events. Van de Sande explained his experience of working with the industry as chaplain to the Dutch dredging industry,  responding to crises in dredging companies.  The conference deduced that the chaplains should aspire to be included in first- and emergency responder teams. The problem is that the industry is not sufficiently aware of what chaplains can contribute.  First emergency and welfare response should be demonstrated and be delivered with professionalism.  The ideal is that pastors will be recognised for their crucial role and professionalism in delivering support. A standard of professional conduct for pastors was suggested to the MPHRP by a workshop of chaplains held in Durban in 2012.

ICMA continues to support all initiatives to counter piracy and to support seafarers and their families who are affected by piracy.

Tough times for centres

Seafarers’ centres represented at the ICMA Black Sea Mediterranean and Middle East Regional Conference report on how tough it has become to maintain facilities and staff.  

Reports received from the centres in the region reveal the challenges that beset ICMA members’ operations and service delivery to seafarers.

Some centres, like Yalta’s, have long and proud histories.  Others are fledgling operations, starting up to meet the needs of seafarers in the region.

The dedication of our chaplains to continue their work in the face of almost impossible odds, is all too apparent.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to afford centres or even centreless ministries.  Chaplains, ship visitors and centre staff  often volunteer their services. Good news is that the AoS report that it established a chaplain in Casablanca,  Morocco, in February 2013.  Father Arnaud de Boissieu, previously from Marseille, now visits crews onboard ships in Casablanca.

Port authorities in many cases have little understanding of chaplaincy, resulting in chaplains being denied access to ports and ships, and centres receiving little if any support from ports. Chaplains were urged to nurture relations with their ports.  ICMA should consider ways to assist and train chaplains to engage in fruitful discussions with port authorities on ISPS interpretation regarding access and understanding the Maritime Labour Convention.  Presently, in all of Ukraine, only Odessa’s port authority allows unfettered access for chaplains.

The Seafarers’ Centre in the Port of Yalta related just how difficult it is to maintain services. However, their survival as a centre is a story of marvelous resilience and innovation. They singled out Douglas Stevenson, and the Center for Seafarers Rights, for praise and gratitude for valued support over many years.

Nuture selfrespect to improve seafarers’ lives

“Seafarers are human.  They are not simply labourers nor expendable commodities.  Respect for seafarers, and seafarers’ respect for themselves, should be nurtured to enable seafarers to improve the quality of their lives.” 

Nataliya Yefrimenko, Odessa-based ITF Inspector, conveyed the warm regards of the ITF and its local affliliates to the ICMA Regional Conference.  Yefrimenko represented both the ITF and the ITF Seafarers Trust at ICMA’s Black Sea Mediterranean and Middle East Regional Conference in Odessa.  The ITF Seafarers Trust made the Regional Conference possible by awarding ICMA a generous grant .

Giving a short overview of the history of the ITF Seafarers Trust, its operations and current structure, and alluding to its strategic review, Ms Yefrimenko said:

The welfare of seafarers requires the partnership of all organisations with the wellbeing of seafarers at heart.

The ITF and its Trust is committed to assisting those who help seafarers. The Trust supports SeafarerHelp (the global 24-hour multi-lingual helpline for seafarers in distress), the MPHRP (the industry’s response to the humanitarian needs of piracy survivors), the HIV/AIDS Project (and other health and safety initiatives), mobility and communication initiatives (including mini-buses, shore leave issues, access to port welfare services and -facilities, Wifi and internet access, phone cards, etc.) and Seafarers’ Rights International, among others.

Quoting David Cockroft, she said: The ITF Seafarers Trust coordinates global work to meet the complex welfare needs of seafarers.  She added that Steve Cotton has said that the strategic review currently in process at the ITF Seafarers Trust, will be responsive to the welfare needs of seafarers as outlined by the MLC 2006.

Yefrimenko said that with 137 ITF inspectors worldwide and ICMA members’ coverage of more than 500 global ports, seafarers benefit from ITF and ICMA’s valued partnership. Our shared human approach to seafarers, settling disputes and solving problems and fulfilling needs improve the lives of seafarers.

She said: The future goal of the ITF Seafarers Trust is improved support for seafarers.  Not to leave seafarers in the victim-valley.  From our different perspectives we all help seafarers.  And, like ICMA chaplains, ITF Inspectors have a prescribed and limited role.

Yefrimenko urged ITF affiliates to  help improve chaplains’ access to seafarers.

Oleg Grigoryuk, First Vice Chair of the Marine Transport Workers Union of Ukraine also warmly welcomed ICMA to Odessa and the Ukraine.  Grigoryuk praised ICMA’s commitment to the wellbeing of Ukrainian seafarers in ports all over the world.

A lively discussion ensued after Yefrimenko’s presentation, demonstrating the dire need for more bilateral contact, discussion, debate and collaborative problem solving in the interest of  seafarers.  Chaplains were invited to refer suggestions for improved welfare provision to the ITF’s strategic review.

August 20, 2013

The countdown to  implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006  (MLC2006) is drawing to a close.  The implementation date is August 20th, 2013.

Douglas B. Stevenson, Chairman if ICMA and Director of the New York based Center for Seafarers Rights of ICMA member the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey, addressed the ICMA Regional Conference in Odessa on the imminent implementation of  MLC2006.   “The MLC2006 is in the best interest of both seafarers and owners,” he said.

Maritime Law predates Christianity.  Laws were made that awarded remarkably favourable rights to seafarers.  At the time, seafaring in the Mediterranean was both an adventurous and risky enterprise, much like present day space explorers. At the time it was in the interest of owners to get the best people.  To do so competitively, they needed to take exceptional care of their crews.  Recruitment and retention was as important then as it is now.  MLC2006 is still in the best interest of owners, as much as it to the benefit of seafarers themselves.

The MLC is an agreement by consensus between ship owners, unions and 85 nations, to work together for the benefit of all in the industry.

MLC will come into affect only for the countries that have ratified it.  It will apply only to those countries that have ratified the Convention, and on their flagged ships.  Port states that have ratified MLC will commence inspections in terms of MLC2006 on ships entering their ports from August 20th.

Stevenson went on to explain to chaplains the structure and finer details of the Convention, leading to a lively discussion.  He urged countries, especially labour supplying countries like the Ukraine, to ratify the Convention.  Ratification will help their citizens to find seafaring employment. Countries represented at the Conference that have ratified the MLC include Morocco, Spain and France.

The MLC2006 strongly encouraged Port Welfare Committees.  But port states were not obliged to pay for shore-based welfare facilities.

It is a requirement of the Convention that an onboard complaints procedure be put in place. If seafarers file a complaint they have the right to be supported.  It may happen that seafarers ask chaplains to accompany them on such occasions.

Stevenson offered ICMA’s personnel the services of the Center for Seafarers’ Rights for advice on implementation and compliance and assistance in resolving problems in collaboration with flag states, if required.  He referred to “the miracle of ICMA” as a network of organisations that have no obligation to cooperate, yet they do: every port chaplain has, through the ICMA online directory,  access to a worldwide network of professional support to refer to for follow up.  Chaplains should make every effort to work with port state inspections.  In addition, IMO’s website has a directory of officials responsible for flag state compliance

Black Sea, Mediterranean and Middle East Region Conference expresses concern for access to seafarers

The ICMA Regional Conference is taking place in Odessa, Ukraine.  Thirty chaplains from the region are gathered to network and to discuss experiences, challenges and achievements encountered in ministry to seafarers.

From the port reports it is immediately apparent that access to seafarers is a recurring problem.  Chaplains’ access to port facilities and ships is restricted and in some cases prohibited. To counter these restrictions in Ukraine, stakeholders in the port of Odessa have signed a memorandum of understanding that will hopefully lead to a Port Welfare Committee here.  PWC’s are expected to forge relationships, enhance understanding and enable collaboration.  Port Welfare Committees have been established elsewhere in the region, including Barcelona and Genoa, to positive effect.

Privatisation of Ukrainian port facilities poses both threats and opportunities to renegotiate permission to access. The ignorance of port authorities should be addressed:  chaplaincy is not generally understood.  Tatyana Tarasysk urged Ukrainian chaplains to consider Port Welfare Committees as an instrument to inform and to the attract support.

The ICMA Regional Conference in Odessa takes place with the generous support of the ITF Seafarers Trust.  The Regional Conference, originally planned for 2012, was postponed to 2013 due to the busy conference schedule among ICMA’s members, including the AoS World Congress of November 2012.



28 more seafarers freed from pirates

“We are happy to welcome the release of 21 crew members from the captivity and are equally saddened to hear of the loss of one Nigerian crew member during captivity days.” 

The Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme reported on its website that the M.T. Royal Grace, a Panama registered Chemical oil product tanker which was captured by Somali Pirates on 3 March 2012 with a crew of 22 (17 Indians, 4 Nigerians, 1 Bangladesh), had been released by pirates.

“I am very happy to announce the release of Indian seafarers,” said the Minister for Shipping of India, G.K. Vasan.  

Apinya Tajit seen here with the family of one of the Royal Grace crew members, taken during a visit to Chittagong, Bangladesh earlier this year

He said 17 sailors on the MV Royal Grace and another 11 on board another released vessel, the MT Smryni, would return home in a few days.  Vasan also pointed out that nine Indian sailors were still being held captive by Somalian pirates.

A year after their abduction by Somalian pirates, 28 Indian sailors on board two ships have been released and will sail for home, bringing huge relief to their families.  It was reported in “The Shipping Tribune”

Vasan is reported as saying:

Due to coordinated actions of ministry of shipping, external affairs, defence, home affairs, Director General Shipping and other important agencies, yesterday we could get release of two vessels, MV Royal Grace, hijacked in March 2012 and MT Smryni hijacked in May 2012.  Our primary concern is to bring back our sailors home safely.

Read the story as reported by The Shipping Tribune.  Click here. 

The Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP) applauded the Indian Shipping Ministry for its role in the release saying that no other government had done as much for its citizens held by pirates.  The Owner, however, had abandoned the vessel which added to the trauma of seafarers and their families. Many of the crew have not been paid any salaries during the captivity period.

MPHRP with assistance of its partners will provide for medical assistance to the crew on their return.

Click this link to see The MPHRP website

You can help foster resilience to piracy

We can help seafarers be more resilient to pirate attacks.  This is the view of Dr.  Michael Stuart Garfinkle of SCI who has published the first clinical study of piracy’s effect on seafarers.

Better coordination to enhance resilience, identifying resources available to seafarers and improved  access to those resources would go a long way to reduce seafarers’ suffering  from the long-term effects of trauma, he said.  In an article published by the Seamen’ s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey, Garfinkle writes:

Maritime piracy represents the single greatest risk to the seafaring community—not because of its prevalence, but because of the potential magnitude of traumatic experience. Resilience describes how we get through the stressors of everyday life, how we survive tragedy and how we recover from traumatic experience. If we think of traumatic experiences as those that interrupt our ability to think, disturb our feelings and make us feel overwhelmed, resilience is the counterforce that minimizes the impact of trauma. Extensive trauma, both in terms of length and intensity, especially tests resilience. Where there are direct threats to life, outcomes tend to be worse.


As a process, resilience is possible at the individual and community level. An individual can be supported in coping, in using available help from loved ones and professionals and in returning to purpose in life.  Many seafarers come from supportive families and communities, and the literature on resilience and surviving traumatic experience suggests that acceptance by peers improves outcomes.

You can help foster resilience by accepting a person’s temporary weakness due to difficult experience.

  • Accept that their suffering is normal.
  • See expressions of pain as opportunities to render help.

CLICK HERE to read the article at the SCI site


Fishers feel the heat

Inspired by Pope Benedict XVI, Dirk Demaeght, AoS chaplain and advocate for fishers in Belgium and Europe, speaks out for fishers in the ecological debate. He has submitted a paper to the International Christian Maritime Association website’s Fishers page.  

Drawing from the Bible, Catholic theology and the ecological debate, Demaeght says:

It’s our mission to bring Gods Words to the attention of policy makers.  Fifty (50) years ago, the Council Fathers emphasized the fact that “the greater man’s power becomes, the farther his responsibility extends”, and that every human activity is to correspond, according to the design and will of God, to humanity’s true good.”(C.S.D. 457)

What, then, he asks, are God’s Biblical principles for responsible fishing?  In Demaeght’s view:

The heated ecological debate brings fishermen in disrepute.  Fishers, who earn their living at sea, are embarrassed. They cannot respond eloquently, and crawl into their shell. The environmental temperature has an impact on the fishery sector and on the wellbeing of fishing families.

Our fishermen are hunters! It is in their genes. They feel themselves called to sea for hunting food provided for them by God: without fish, no bread! Fishermen strongly believe in God! During religious celebrations for fishing families, a crew brings a fish basket to  the altar as an offering. This is testimony of Christian ecological consciousness. In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the Lord, they are aware that the fruits of their work are given by God. Bringing their own sacrifice of fish is their language to express what they cannot say in words.

We have to make it clear to our people that our Church is strongly committed to address ecological problems. But the Church’s commitment is to much more than the earth and what grows, walks and swims in it naturally. The Church cares also about humanity, family and all aspects of human life, centred on Jesus Christ.

Read the whole paper on our Fishers page.

At the papal audience during the 23rd World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea, Benedictus XVI encouraged fishers and their families.  Pope Benedict said:

“…, they more than others must face the difficulties of the present time and live the uncertainty of the future, marked by the negative effects of climate change and the excessive exploitation of resources. To you fishermen, who seek decent and safe working conditions, safeguarding the dignity of your families, the protection of the environment and the defence of every person’s dignity, I would like to ensure the Church’s closeness.”

The Pope reaffirmed the commitment of the Catholic Church to the global Apostleship of the Sea and Stella Maris ministries to seafarers, fishers and their families.  AoS International is managed by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People.