Normally there is a lot of fun in my role as Superintendent and Port Chaplain of the Aberdeen Seafarers Centre in Aberdeen.

Recently, however, there has been a fair share of not so good news.

The “bubble has burst” was what one in the know told me last week referring to the downturn in the oil and shipping industries. This is true with many companies laying up vessels and others making seafarers redundant.

I spent a couple of hours with a DP Master, unlimited ticket who had been made redundant and is now working on an ERRV.  No disrespect to those on ERRV’s, fine seamen they are, however, it does indicate desperate times.

Yet to put it all into perspective, and as I have often said in the past at vessel Christenings, without the crew, the ‘tin boxes’ are just that: lumps of metal, engines and electronics. It is the crew that make the vessel run smoothly and as they bring their expertise to bear upon their trips to sea, only then can the vessels bring in an income (albeit very limited at the moment) to the companies.

It is a tough life at sea and it is getting tougher making a living – especially when redundancies happen. Yes, redundancies do happen ashore too – I know, it happened to me three years ago!

But Crewing Managers and those who hire or fire seafarers need to be aware that behind every redundancy is a man or woman, probably with a family and many responsibilities. They are not a number and they do matter.

It does annoy me when I see an ex seafarer who now works in an office and seems to have had a frontal lobotomy and forgotten how tough it was as sea!

Companies do need to save money. How they do this is critical and yet there needs to be a realisation that cutting crew costs, if not the crew – e.g. food stores having less money whilst the cost of essential foods go up, means less food for the guys to eat! Having sailed on a vessel where the food was meagre and seeing what it did for crew morale, it is not really a wise option! Cooks are cooks, not magicians!

Cutting crew numbers is also a difficult scenario… and it may save in the short term, but it is unsustainable in the long term – fatigue sets in, mistakes are made, corners cut… Who picks up the pieces when it goes belly-up?

Now I realise that you may be thinking that this is getting political – it is not – I am simply repeating comments heard from the many seafarers that I and my ship visiting team have listened to.

So back to sad times…

Two newly qualified cadets – completed their training and excellent references, but no jobs and no prospects of jobs. These skilled and enthusiastic ‘assets’ will be lost to our shrinking British Merchant Officers pool if they cannot find a job.

Today I have been with a seafarer who has been out of work for 5 months because of a work related illness and is now off pay apart from statutory sick pay – which at £88.45 is not enough to live on! I was able to  offer support and welfare assistance…

Whilst with him I heard of two seafarers who had died… one guy called me to say that Frank had passed away after a long battle with Cancer. I’ve known Frank and Big Phil for many years and shared many happy times onboard with them, banter over a cuppa is always a welcome distraction – I have also battled with their employers when there were ‘pay issues’ to sort out – after all, my role is to look after their welfare in its widest sense.

The other seafarer who has died was also a good friend. He had in fact promised to make a bell rope for our entry bell at the Seafarers Centre… but I received a message this morning informing me that he had died. You can read more here.

So what am I saying? Just that it is tough for everyone. The days of being cavalier with the lives of individuals needs to stop – it has devastating impact on them and those around them…

Even on a ship visit today, it was sad to hear a Russian seafarer complain of low wages few crew and ever shorter times in port. They arrived just before midnight and started loading first thing this morning and sailed just after 1600 – with no time for shore leave!

That said, I did a lot today – felt that I was able to help a few seafarers deal with their issues and even managed to do some ship visits too!

My next post will certainly be a bit more upbeat, but I felt that it was important that I shared this as we live in a real world full of ups and downs. However, I am thankful that my faith in Christ has seen me through many such events and He could do the same for you…


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