ICMA has recently returned from visits in East Asia to ICMA members working with fishers in the ports of Kaohsuing and Pusan. ICMA emphasised the continuing importance of maintaining support and advocacy for fishers, and recognised the important task of connecting with fishers and their families through the extensive ministry of our member organisations.
It became apparent once again that the members of the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) benefit from our Association when individual members share expertise and publicly support one another’s goals.
Commodore David Dickens (The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishers), Alexander Campbell (Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest) and Reverend Hennie la Grange (outgoing general secretary of ICMA) met at the QVSR in East London on Friday.
From the meeting it was clear that funding was increasingly difficult to find. While funders have changed their funding priorities and have developed application procedures to ensure diligent grant giving, it has become tougher to get money for crucial services and emergency response. It was floated that, perhaps, the changing needs of the welfare sector have not been recognised or understood by our traditional supporters.
While funders were reluctant to support hostel-style accommodation in London, the QVSR boasted 99% occupation levels each year. QVSR’s longer term residents from maritime backgrounds tended to resist being re-housed in council-supported private accommodation, as they needed the maritime feel of the Rest and its sense of community. Years at sea have severed their links to onshore community life, and that is what the Seamen’s Rest is able to provide.
Similarly the Fisherman’s Mission has deepening concern for foreign seafarers working in fishing. Recent incidents of foreign sailors incarcerated for being in the UK illegally, abandoned here due to failed contracts (a recent case highlighted by AOS GB), and of families abroad left destitute after loss of a fisher’s life, strengthens the Fishers Mission’s resolve to use the ICMA network internationally to reach these families, and to roll out assistance to international seafarers.
The leaders of RNMDSF and QVSR came away from the meeting committed to helping one another in matters of faith and resolved to collaborate on matters ofmutual interest.
Maritime charity, the Apostleship of the Sea (AoS), has spoken out on the way seafarers and fishermen are treated when they run into problems with their UK visas. These seafarers are never without the support of ICMA member, AoS Great Britain.
Recently four foreign fishermen, two Filipino and two Indonesian, were stranded in Newcastle, UK , when the fishing boat they were working on hit financial difficulties. The ‘Starward’ was impounded due to the owner’s financial troubles.
The crew had not been paid salaries since March. This meant that they were not able to send money back home to their families in Indonesia and the Philippines, with one crew member relating how his children were going hungry. As the crew were only contracted to work on this particular vessel they were not able to transfer to another. Also, as they were working on transit visas, the UK Border Agency had them arrested in mid-June and they were taken to a detention centre. They were subsequently transferred to a Heathrow detention centre where some of them remain.
Throughout this ordeal the crew have been helped and supported by the Apostleship of the Sea’s Tyne port chaplain, Paul Atkinson. Paul has provided practical and emotional support, working with the AoS national office to try to alleviate the men’s stress and ensure they are fairly treated.
Apostleship of the Sea National Director Martin Foley said,
‘The application of immigration rules to these men has taken no consideration of their circumstances. It is appalling that overseas fishing crews who are stranded in the UK through no fault of their own are treated like criminals and subjected to treatment that has demeaned and humiliated them.”
Pastor Dirk Demaeght, who works with fishers in Belgium, alerts us of the plight of fisher families in these times of economic downturn.
We must realize that, today, from a pastoral point of view, our fishery is bleeding! There are 7 vessels on the side because of financial difficulties. In some families the mountain of unpaid invoices is impossible to meet. The fuel prices continue to rise and fish prices fall because of a slowdown in the European fish market. In addition, the measures that the European Union has taken on discards make life even more difficult.
Fishers are stressed and discouraged.
Many young fishermen are leaving the industry. At the age of 35-40 years they wrestle with the question whether they still have a future to build in the fishing industry. To remain in fisheries, increases the possibility that they, at some point, will no longer be able to cope physically with the hard work. But on the other hand it is difficult for them to change careers knowing that they do not have skills valuable to the labour market.
We must pray that they continue to believe in their future as fishermen.
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.
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.
While the ratification of the Fishing Convention 188 is a long way off, fishers continue to face severe difficulties.
Peter Snow from ICMA member the Seafarers Welfare Board of New Zealand, represented ICMA at a meeting on the welfare of fishers held in Bali on October 4th 2012. The meeting was initiated by ICMA partners the ICSW and the ITF Seafarers Trust. The meeting was piggy-backed on the South East Asia Regional Welfare Committee Meeting.
In his report to the Secretariat, Snow wrote:
In most [of the] countries [represented at the meeting], fishing was very much a family business rather than corporate commercial fishing. Being so, there was intense resistance to change [= welfare interventions] as the businesses felt that they might lose their livelihood.
The provision of welfare services did not feature very much, and most delegates confirmed that they do not extend welfare facilities in their ports to fishermen. Even the Regional ICSW welfare project did not really cover fishermen. There were no specific drop-in centres provided anywhere in the region specifically for fishermen.
Generally [there were] poor living conditions on board fishing vessels with very little access for crew to communications facilities.
Desired outcomes were:
For Fishing Boat owners: the provision of fair wages, proper living conditions on board the vessels, no withholding of passports, nutritious food, training and workplace safety, access to medical supplies and services, seaworthiness of the vessels themselves, and P&I/insurance cover for all.
For Port Authorities, space for drop-in centres, access to health facilities ashore, local support utilities, safety and security, general awareness training, port state control and rest/recreation areas with access to canteens (although this might be a duplication of drop-in centres).
Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights and Chairman of ICMA, visited Taiwan to raise local awareness of seafarers’ and fishers’ port welfare needs, and to explore ways for government and industry to work alongside non-governmental organisations to provide seafarers’ welfare facilities and services.
Stevenson was hosted by the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the PCT Seamen’s/Fishermen’s Service Center in Kaohsiung (SFSC). Reverend Yueh Han Chuang, Director of ICMA member the PCT Seamen’s/Fishermen’s Service Center, the society’s Treasurer, Ivy Wu, and its Chair, Ms Hsiu-Chi Weng, accompanied Stevenson throughout the visit.
My visit started with a seminar convened by Ambassador Rong-Chuan Wu, Director General of MOFA’s Department of NGO International. Attendees included high-level representatives from various MOFA departments, Prosecutors’ Offices, Fisheries Agency and SFSC.
As ICMA Chairman, I explained the importance of merchant shipping and fishing to Taiwan’s prosperity and its importance in making seagoing careers attractive options for skilled people.
I then briefed the seminar on how the 27 ICMA member organizations provide seafarers’ services at 526 centers in 126 countries, satisfying nations’ obligations to ensure seafarers’ welfare facilities exist in their ports.
SFSC exemplifies the model of an NGO that provides seafarers with services domestically as well as internationally through membership in the ICMA network.
Seminar discussions also included an update on the status of piracy off the coast of Somalia and how ICMA members are responding to piracy’s effects on seafarers, including SCI’s recently published clinical study report and work within the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program.
Taiwan Fisheries Agency Deputy Director-General Ying-Chih Chiang and his staff met with us to discuss conditions on Taiwanese fishing vessels. He explained that although advancements have been made on Taiwanese flagged fishing vessels, there remain many challenges in protecting seafarers on foreign flag fishing vessels. I suggested as a possible solution requiring foreign fishing vessels to meet Taiwan’s standards as a condition of entry into Taiwan ports.
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.
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
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
Fishers are vulnerable to forced labour and human trafficking. Father Bruno Ciceri will speak for fishers on our behalf at a meeting of the ILO to be held in Turin later this month to address injustices in the fishing industry.
The International Christian Maritime Association has been invited by the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation to participate in the consultation on forced labour among fishers. The meeting, “Forced Labour in the Fishing Sector”, will be held on 19-20 September 2012, in Turin, Italy, at the ILO International Training Centre. In its invitation the ILO stated:
The purpose of the meeting is to have a holistic discussion of the legal, practical and technical modalities needed to form an effective and coordinated global strategy to combat forced labour in the fishing industry. We are targeting participants with a high level of expertise on the issue. We would be grateful if an ICMA representative could attend this event.
Father Bruno Ciceri’s attendance will be jointly sponsored by the Apostleship of the Sea and the ILO. Father Bruno and the ICMA sub-committee for Ministry to Fishers and Families have asked that ICMA members contribute by sending him information that might be useful to the discussion.
Uncle Shin, an old salt, loves the blue sea and the blue sky. Yet his recent homecoming changed all that: all he remembers from sailing home alone on his son’s boat is the relentless blue.
The July 2012 Newsletter of the P.C.T Seamen’s/Fishermen’s Service Center in Taiwan relates the bitter story of a fisher and father’s tragic life.
Uncle Shin’s son, A-chang, was a fisher too. But tragedy struck when A-chang’s second child died and his newborn was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Six feet and four inches tall in his boots, A-chang was a self-respecting breadwinner, and refused to be defeated by his hard luck. He simply sailed farther and farther to find fish. Until, one day, communication was lost. Four days later the ship was found, abandoned, and A-chang missing. An investigation ensued. Finally, foreign fishers owned up to having murdered A-chang and dumping his body in the sea.
The PCT Seamen’s / Fishermen’s Service Center provided what comfort it could muster, helping the family to seek compensation and welfare support. Pastor Cheng and the local church stood by them through the ordeal.
Uncle Shin will, no doubt, return to sea to ply his trade. We pray that he may learn again to love the blue planet of God’s creation, and to put aside those empty days of repatriating his beloved son’s boat. If Uncle Shin, a simple dad, would not leave his son’s property abandoned, much less would God abandon us.