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.