The Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Peter Turkson sends a message celebrating Sea Sunday. In his message to mark Sea Sunday, Cardinal Turkson begins by saying that unfortunately, this year’s celebration, which should have been a joyous one, has been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also meant the postponement of the October centenary of Stella Maris (Apostleship of the Sea) in Glasgow which will now go ahead in 2021.
“Our heart is going out to the relatives and friends of the countless victims (among them many seafarers) of the coronavirus and we feel distressed and disoriented for the uncertainties about the future,” says the Cardinal.
COVID-19 and the challenges to Seafarers
The COVID-19 pandemic brought many countries to a complete shut down and enforced an extended lockdown for many businesses in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.
However, Cardinal Turkson, notes that “the maritime industry continued its operation, adding a multitude of challenges to the already problematic lives of the seafarers, and putting them on the front line in fighting against the coronavirus.”
The Prefect also underlines that Sea Sunday offers an opportunity for people to revisit the role of seafarers, and “to recall some of the issues that negatively affect the seafarer’s life and which are aggravated by the suspicion and fear of contamination.”
Many crew members have had to face difficulties in this unprecedented situation and Cardinal Turkson acknowledges in the message, that “those who have already spent between six to ten months on board, had to suffer the great inconvenience of having their employment period extended, with the consequent increase of personal fatigue and prolonged absence from loved ones and the comfort of homes.”
“We have reports” he says, “of many seafarers with serious and potentially life treating medical conditions which are unrelated to COVID-19… Furthermore, seafarers who returned home after a long and dramatic journey have to undergo quarantine or suffer discrimination or stigmatisation in their own country, because they are considered as carriers of the coronavirus.”
“Regrettably,” the Cardinal continues, “we have also to deplore the fact that while seafarers endeavour to keep the supply chains moving with dedication and at the cost of huge personal sacrifices, some unscrupulous ship-owners, crewing agencies and managers use the excuse of the pandemic to dismiss their obligations to guarantee their labour rights, including proper wages and the promotion of safe and secure working environments for all them.”
In the message, Cardinal Turkson also points out that “according to a report, the first three months of 2020 have seen a 24% increase in piracy attacks and attempted attacks over the same period in 2019.”
Income and livelihood
“To all of the experiences above of the seafarers, which describe a dangerous form of livelihood,” he says, “we must now consider the real threat of losing even this precarious livelihood, because it will mean for many the total loss of income and inability to assume social and domestic responsibilities, such as, payment of utilities bills, education of dependants, welfare of family.”
In the light this, notes the Cardinal, the celebration of Sea Sunday especially by Christians is an invitation to express solidarity, esteem and gratitude for the work of seafarers”.
In conclusion, Cardinal Turkson takes the opportunity to re-launch the message of the IMO General-Secretary Kitack Lim which says, “You are not alone. You are not forgotten.”
Prayer inspired by the Message for Sea Sunday (12 July 2020) of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development
Holy Virgin Mary, sign of the maternal face of God,
with filial confidence we turn to you in the current pandemic.
Keep in your Immaculate Heart the seafarers, the fishermen and their families,
who with their work are ensuring the human family with food and other basic needs.
Sign of the closeness of the Father,
support them in their trials and protect them from all dangers: isolation and severe physical and mental stress, long periods spent on board ships, distance from their family, friends and from their own country, fear of contamination, piracy attacks and attempted attacks, armed robberies.
Sign of the mercy of the Son,
help Stella Maris chaplains and volunteers to listen to the people of the sea,
trying to respond to their material and spiritual needs,
standing by their side, raising their concerns,
upholding their labour rights and preventing discrimination.
Sign of the fruitfulness of the Spirit and advocate of seafarers,
bring unscrupulous ship-owners, crewing agencies and managers
back to the way of justice who,
using the excuse of the pandemic,
dismiss their obligations towards seafarers.
Let us stand in solidarity with those who have lost their income.
Sign of consolation and sure hope,
tenderly embraces coronavirus victims,
especially the seafarers who committed suicide.
Star of the Sea, pray for us. Amen!
With thanks to Vatican News, where this article originally appeared.