Category Archives: Meetings

A new team leads ICMA Region

Father Oleksandr Smerechynskyy, Apostleship of the Sea chaplain in Odessa, was elected as the new Regional Coordinator for the ICMA Black Sea, Mediterranean and Middle East Region. 

Father Oleksandr Smerechynskyy and Hennie la Grange

The Region met in Odessa, Ukraine.  Oleksandr is based in Odessa and operates from a small seafarers’ centre just outside the port gates.  He shares his centre and works as a close team with colleague Rostyslav Inzhestoykov of the Mission to Seafarers.  Together these two dedicated port chaplains did a magnificent job in staging a hugely successful regional conference.  The organisation was flawless and every request for assistance was met with a smile.  The outspoken aim was that everyone should have a relaxed conference, and that aim certainly achieved.  The accommodation was first class, the meals were scrumptious, especially the traditional Ukrainian cafe-style banquet and the closing gala buffet.  The conference highlighted the wonderful hospitality of the Ukrainian people.  The speakers were clearly specialists in their field, and the chaplains eagerly participated in discussions.  The organising team deserve our gratitude and congratulations on a job very well done.

What struck me was the committed dedication and unfailing enthusiasm of the region’s chaplains.  Almost all these chaplains face very difficult odds, yet their determination to succeed in their chosen ministries to seafarers was a credit to their faith.  They love passionately what they do, caring for both seafarers and the maritime families who live locally.  They are driven by faith that leads them to care unconditionally for all seafarers.

This regional conference was an inspiration.  I commend these men and women to seafarers.

With the election of  Father Oleksandr, Ricardo Rodriguez-Martos of Barcelona, a stalwart of the region’s ecumenical work, bows out as regional coordinator.  It is fair to say that Ricardo has set the bar high for all our regional coordinators.  Ricardo has done exceptional work for this Association. He has maintained close contact with all the chaplains in his region, and has come out in support of chaplaincy and ecumenical working as the core of ICMA’s existence.  His region’s contact details are up to date, and he kept every port chaplain abreast of ICMA’s communications, adding to the Secretariat’s letters to chaplains a regular regional bulletin.  The International Christian Maritime Association thanks Ricardo, one of the characters of this ministry, for his services to our Association.

In closing the conference, we prayed together for God’s blessing of the care to seafarers given by these men and women of the Black Sea, Mediterranean and Middle East Region.  May these ICMA personnel be especially blessed, their vocational commitment strengthened and their relationships cemented in faith, that they may overcome the many obstacles that they face.

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.

Twinning… or dating for seafarers’ centres!

The twinning of seafarers’s centres, a project currently run by the newly established ISWAN, was initially intended by ICSW to connect ex-Soviet Union centres with centres elsewhere in the world.  Set up to improve understanding of the the mindset of Slavonic seafarers, and to inspire hospitality to foreign seafarers in Eastern European ports, the Twinning programme has proven so successful, that it has been expanded to include the rest of the world.

Seafarers’ centre staff are supported to enable reciprocal visits.  Spending time at other centres that have similar needs and demographics, and that face challenges akin to those at home, allows for centres to learn from one another.    Centres are matched on various criteria.  The evaluation of the twinning scheme has been universally positive.  In some cases twinning of seafarers’ centres have gone way beyond the original aims of the programme, resulting in ongoing relations being established between the host ports and even the host cities.

Tatyana Tarasysk, manager of one of the two seafarers’ centres in Odessa, Ukraine, leads the project. Tatyana Tarasysk promoted the programme in a presentation at the ICMA Black Sea, Mediterranean and Middle East Regional Conference held in Odessa.  The aim of the programme, she said, was to improve seafarers’ welfare. “To feel encouraged when you see others struggling with the same problems.”

Tatyana related several stories and comments from centres that have participated. She urged ICMA centres to consider participating in the Twinning scheme.

Guidelines on who could participate and how to get involved are available on the website of ISWAN, the International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network.

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.

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.



AoS USA Conference 2013

The Apostleship of the Sea of the United States of America has announced its 13th Annual AOS-USA Conference.  

Father Sinclair Oubre, seen here with Alice Robinson in Rome

AOS-USA members will gather in Jacksonville, Florida, from 23rd to 26th April 2013 for this annual event. The Annual Meeting is an opportunity for continued education and development, networking among AOS Port Chaplains, Seafarers’ Center staff and volunteers, Cruise Ship Priests, and Catholic Mariners devoted to their Faith and to the work of the AOS-USA, wrote Father Sinclair Oubre.

Highlights of the conference are set to include:

  • A one-day evangelization seminar led by Fr. Gregory Jensen of the Catherine of Siena Institute. 
  • Two-session training by Roy Paul of the London-based Maritime Piracy Human Response Program 
  • Presentation by Ira Douglas of Crowley Maritime Corporation Future Opportunities in the US Merchant Marine

Responding to piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

Reverend Ed Gbe

Chaplains from the ICMA West Africa Region have expressed concern about the postponement of the Regional Conference as piracy in the region escalates.  

Pirates have boarded another ship off the coast of Nigeria’s oil region, the latest in a string of attacks in the area.  It was reported that an unknown number of foreigners were kidnapped in the attack on the Armadah Tuah vessel.  If confirmed, this attack would be the third offshore kidnapping in the area in 10 days, following the attacks on Esther C on February 7th, and on Walvis 7 on February 10th.  Gulf of Guinea pirate attacks have been notoriously violent.  But the recent spate of hostage-taking is a new development in the tactics of these pirates.    In a separate attack, robbers resorted to the usual modus operandi for this part of the world, boarding a ship anchored at the Lagos port and stealing the stores kept on the ship.

Piracy off the Nigerian coast and elsewhere in the Gulf of Guinea is on the rise. There have been at least five attacks in the waters off Africa’s most populous nation this month, reported The Shipping Tribune

ICMA chaplains working in the region are keen to learn how best to respond to the needs of seafarers affected by pirate attacks such as these.  The Regional Coordinator Reverend Ed Gbe, assisted by Sunday Agbi,  wrote to the Secretariat urging ICMA to help them “…actualize ICMA objectives in the region for effective seafarers welfare care.” To this end, they said “we will need a strategic plan that must be worked through.”  Both Ed and Sunny believe that the delivery of welfare to seafarers lacks an overarching organisational structure and exposure to authorities and industry alike.

Ed and Sunny’s enthusiasm for an ICMA conference in Nigeria indicates the value of these networking and training events for local chaplains. An ICMA regional conference was planned for 2013, but had to be postponed due to the ITF Seafarers’ Trust’s strategic review.  It is hoped that a regional conference would be possible in 2014.  Meanwhile, ICMA intends to help the region to achieve its goals as best it can by other means.

ICMA strategic review continues

River Liffey, Dublin. Source: College Tribune

The International Christian Maritime Association continues its strategic review.  The Executive Committee meets in Dublin on 15th and 16th January to discuss the report on the Members Consultation held last year in Rome.

Crucial to the discussions continues to be the strengthening of the Association.  The Members’ Consultation has identified what the Association should be doing to meet the needs of its members.  The delivery of these services to its members hinges on ICMA’s ability to afford them.

The Executive Committee has invited members to comment on the report of the Rome review and to make proposals for the implementation of ideas and principles agreed at the Consultation.  The Executive meeting in Dublin will attempt to devise practiicable strategies within the Association’s limited means.

The Apostleship of the Sea in Dublin is hosting the meeting of the ICMA Executive Committee.  The ExCom is grateful to Rose Kearney who has assisted in making local arrangements.

The management of the ICMA UK and Ireland Region is set to meet at the same venue in Dublin on January 17th.  The ExCom has been invited to attend the region’s meeting.


ICMA Regional Conference announced

The ICMA Mediterranean, Black Sea and Middle East Region is to present its regional conference in Odessa from 8th to 11th of April 2013.  The Regional Conference was announced this week by the region’s coordinator, Deacon Ricardo Rodriguez-Martos, from Stella Maris Barcelona. The conference is made possible by a generous grant received from the ITF Seafarers Trust.

In a letter to ICMA chaplains in the Region, Ricardo wrote:

We are calculating costs for the conference.   We will inform you very shortly of the costs and the program planned for the event.  Some topics are already included for presentations to be made by specialists:

  • Cruise Ships ministry,
  • Ecumenical working and networking within ICMA,
  • Chaplains’ responses to the effects of piracy on seafarers, to be presented by the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme
  • MLC 2006, to be presented by Douglas B. Stevenson from the Center for Seafarers Rights, SCI New York and New Jersey
  • The welfare agenda of the ITF and its Seafarers’ Trust

However, given that this is a regional conference and that it is very important to take into account the concerns of the region I am asking you now for suggestions.  Please send me, not later than January 16th, your proposals for topics that you would like the conference to address.  Even if you don’t know if you will be able to attend the conference, send your suggestions. As far as possible we will try to find ways for people not able to attend the conference to somehow participate in it.

Only ICMA members from the region need respond to the request.  Ricardo can be reached at


Apostleship of the Sea World Congress XXIII, Vatican City: a showcase event

Pope Benedict XVI blessed the Catholic ministry to seafarers at the largest ever World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea, held last month in the Vatican City.  In the first audience with a pope since the dedication of the AoS 90 years ago, the more than 400 delegates and guests of the 23rd Congress were witness to the Holy Father’s re-commitment of the Church to this vital ministry. 

The Congress will be remembered for its magnitude, its venue, its worship, fellowship and deliberations.  Themed “New Evangelisation”, the Congress considered new ways of witnessing to God in contemporary society where faith is reviled and rejected as irrelevant.

The opening mass was held in the iconic St Peter’s Basilica, moving from there to the John Paul VI Synod Hall for general assembly.  The daily celebration of the mass took place in full view of the magnificent sculpture The Resurrected Christ.   Delegates were treated to a private tour of the Vatican Museum, highlighting the Sistine Chapel.

The Congress heard presentations on the theology of New Evangelisation from His Excellency Msgr Rino Fisichella, President of the Ponticical Council for New Evangelisation and from Reverend Hennie la Grange, General Secretary of the International Christian Maritime Association, on New Evangelisation’s ecumenical application.  Seafarers rights were addressed  by Ms. Deidre Fitzpatrick from Seafarers Rights International and Dr. Peter Swift , Chair of the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme, made a moving presentation on the scourge of piracy.  David Cockroft, Secretary General of the International Transport Workers Federation, spoke on the challenges and opportunities facing AoS, and Dr. Cleopatra Dumbia Hendry, Director of the Internatonal Labour Standards of the ILO, presented MLC 2006 as an instrument for promoting seafarers welfare.  The Congress celebrated World Fishers Day on 21st November by dedicating the day to fishers issues including discussion of the Convention on Fishing.

The Congress, packed with memorable highlights from start to finish, had two very deeply moving moments which delegates will not forget.

  • The Master of a vessel held captive by Somali pirates for almost a year, came to tell his story of faith, endurance and compassion.  He spoke of his deep concerns for his crew, his personal terror, and of his forgiveness for the pirates.  The standing ovation lasted several minutes.
  • And on the final day the Congress moved to the papal palace for a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI, receiving his blessing for AoS and the Catholic ministries to seafarers.


Father Bruno Ciceri, Antonella Farina and the team have delivered a monumental event in the life of the Apostleship of the Sea.  The Congress has again proven the AoS is a vibrant and dynamic organisation in the ministry to seafarers, and this Congress will, no doubt, inspire the Stella Maris network to even greater things.  ICMA congratulates the Apostleship of the Sea upon delivery of this showcase event for faith-based care to people of the sea.

You can download the presentation of the ICMA General Secretary, Reverend Hennie la Grange, “New Evangelisaton in Ecumenical Context”, from our Publications page.