The Covid-19 pandemic presented difficult times for seafarers, and those who support them, as crew were stranded onboard vessels unable to take shore leave or receive visitors.
As border restrictions eased, Mission to Seafarers Singapore (MTSS), the local arm of the global charity, was once again able to offer much-needed and welcome face-to-face interactions with seafarers onboard and at contact points.
MTSS Chairman Captain Rob Walker told the Seatrade Maritime Special Report on Singapore: “It’s great to be back on the horse and able to reach out.”
The charity in Singapore is run by volunteers, including Capt Walker, who is the full-time Chief Operating Officer of ASP Ship Management. On the ground, Kaplan Toh Soon Kok is a friendly face familiar to many seafarers from around the world whose ships call at the city’s terminals or anchorages.
The MTSS currently has two entry points within port boundaries at Jurong Port and Pasir Panjang Terminal, meaning seafarers visiting the centers do not have to go through port security.
The primary hub is Jurong Port, a bulk and breakbulk facility where ships typically lie at berth longer than those calling at container terminals. The center at Jurong Port offers seafarers activities to relax, such as a pool table, darts and library, as well as internet and telephone access to keep in touch with family and friends back home. “It’s just a place to get away from it all,” says Capt Walker, which is important for seafarers who live at their place of work for months.
The Pasir Panjang drop-in center, a Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) expected to be managed by MTSS, will be used primarily for ship visits given the short turnaround time for container ships calling at PSA terminals in Singapore.
Ship visits are an integral part of the Mission’s work in Singapore and in the past year it conducted approximately 3,897 visits. With such a large number of visits, MTSS is always looking for volunteers, with training available on all aspects of ship visitation, and volunteers are also needed for those who don’t feel like climbing up and down gangways, helping seafarers at Centers can welcome each other.
Although communications services such as the internet and telephone calls at sea have greatly improved for many seafarers in recent years, this remains an expensive or simply unattainable luxury. “It’s surprising how many ships don’t have internet,” says Capt Walker.
However, while ships are in port, seafarers can access WiFi, and MTSS has a donor-funded project to distribute routers to ships in port so seafarers can access the internet. In 2022, around 8,787 crew members used the network.
The Mission relies on fundraising to fund its activities and last October the Seafarers Awards, which honor five or six individuals and companies annually, were held in Singapore again in person.
Looking ahead, Walker says they’d like to visit ships at anchor more regularly, as many ships only call at Singapore for business or bunkering rather than at the city-state’s terminals. It currently rents launches on a daily or hourly basis, but is exploring the possibility of a longer lease if the project is successful. The possibility of lending launches to be used by the Port Authority is also being discussed with the MPA.
The other project on the horizon is a drop-in center at the mega-terminal Tuas Port, whose first berths are already in operation. “We are in discussions with MPA about plans for the design and management of the drop-in center,” says Capt Walker.
Planning is at an early stage and there could be more than one center. Whether a drop-in center is inside or outside the port must also be decided as the port will be fully automated.
This story first appeared in the Seatrade Maritime Special Report on Singapore
Source: News Network