The issue of Newcastle’s coal ship queues have long been an issue of public dialogue and media attention. I remember after the infamous Pasha Bulka storm of 2007, there were 80 vessels queuing for weeks to get into our coal port. Gratefully, in recent times the bottleneck has been dramatically reduced.
Something you don’t see, when you look off into that horizon and the vessels that decorate it, are the people who are on those vessels – the seafarers. These seafarers spend much of their life at sea voyaging for months at a time from one side of the world to the other shipping goods for international trade. The expression, “out of sight, out of mind” resonates. Fortunately, there’s an organisation that makes sure these seafarers are kept front of mind.
Mission to Seafarers is an organisation jointly operated by the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle, which provides services and support for mariners of all nationalities attending Newcastle port. It is resourced by 40 volunteers who work as chaplains, kitchen staff, tradesmen, counsellors and drivers and offer practical, pastoral and spiritual support by talking and praying with the weary seafarers, celebrating Mass, helping them to connect with their families whilst away from home, taking them shopping at Marketown in Newcastle and even going aboard to talk to those, such as the captains, who cannot leave the ship. There are occasions when an ill or injured seafarer has to be lifted from a vessel by helicopter and taken to hospital, when this happens volunteers also visit with these patients in hospital until they are well enough to be flown home.
The Newcastle Seafarers Centre, which is based at Wickham, has served mariners visiting Newcastle for more than 70 years. The centre provides more than 10,000 visitors annually a land-based sanctuary to take a break from sea life and access computers and wifi, books, meals and facilities.
The service is highly valued by the seafarers and their appreciation was demonstrated recently when they nominated the Newcastle Seafarers Centre in a worldwide survey of mission centres through the International Seafarers’ Welfare Assistance Network (ISWAN) Awards in the category of Seafarer Centre of the Year. The awards showcase excellence in the provision of seafarers’ welfare and all nominations are given directly by the seafarers themselves. The Newcastle Seafarers Centre was voted in the top five in the world and is the only Australian mission centre within those top five.
Roger Harris, ISWAN Executive Director said the network was honoured to be holding the awards event at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in June, "These awards are about celebrating the work of those companies, organisations, and individuals that go the extra mile to ensure the health and well-being of seafarers.”
The winners will be announced at a high profile awards ceremony on 9 June 2015 and will be presented by the Secretary General, Mr Koji Sekimizu.