Message for the 2016 Sea Sunday

(10 July 2016) 

          Sitting comfortably on the sofa of our homes, we find it difficult to understand the extent to which our daily life depends on the maritime industry and the sea. If we look around us where we live and work, we can realize that most of the furniture and computer equipment we use has been transported by ship, that our clothes have been shipped in containers from the other end of the world and that the fruit we eat has been delivered by refrigerated ships from another country, while oil tankers transport oil and petrol for our cars. Without maritime trade, the import and export of finished goods and products would not be possible.

            Even when we decide to have fun and relax by taking a cruise, we do not realize the thousands of seafarers who work hard to ensure that everything goes well and guarantee us all the comfort we can during our vacation.

            Moreover, during the recent humanitarian emergency situation in the Mediterranean Sea, some crews of merchant ships have been in the front line to intervene and help thousands of people trying to get to Europe on board boats or inflatable dinghies under conditions of navigation.

            Almost 1,200,000 seafarers of all nationalities (mostly from developing countries) transport about 90% of all types of goods on board 50,000 merchant ships. The relentless forces of the seas and oceans expose ships to considerable risks, but it is the seafarers who “risk” under multiple aspects.

            Their physical integrity is threatened because, in addition to the dangers of the forces of nature, piracy and armed robbery, the fact of moving from one region to another, changing and having to constantly adapt to new situations, continues to represent a considerable risk to crew safety. Their psychological well-being is threatened when, after being at sea for days and weeks, they are denied the right to go ashore and prevented from leaving the ship.

            The family life of seafarers is in danger because their contracts force them to be away from family and friends for several months and often for years in a row. The children grow up without a father figure while all the family responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the mother.

            The human and professional dignity of seafarers is threatened when they are exploited because of long hours of work and the fact that the payment of their wages is delayed by months or, in the case of abandonment, when they are not paid at all. The criminalization of seafarers is a serious concern, given that in particular in recent years a number of maritime activities, once considered legal, have been criminalized, especially as regards accidents such as shipwrecks, pollution, and so on.

            Encouraged by Pope Francis who urged the chaplains and volunteers of the Apostolate of the Sea ”  to be the voice of workers who live far from their loved ones and face situations of danger and difficulty” [1] , asApostolato del Mare we stand alongside seafarers to repeat that their human and professional rights must be respected and protected.

            We call upon the relevant Governments and maritime authorities to strengthen the implementation of the ILO Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) 2006, in particular Rule 4.4 which aims to ” ensure that seafarers on board a ship have access to structures and services on the ground to safeguard their state of health and well-being “.

            Finally, on the occasion of the annual celebration of the Sunday of the Sea, we wish to remind all Christian communities and to each individual how the profession of the seafarer and the maritime industry are essential for our daily life. We appeal to the bishops, particularly the maritime dioceses, so to establish and support the maritime apostolate as ” the visible sign solicitude towards those who can not receive an ordinary pastoral care [2] “ .

            Finally we express our gratitude to the seafarers for their work, and we entrust them, together with their families, to the maternal protection of Mary, Stella Maris .