The Portal November 2016 - Page 12

THE P RTAL November 2016 Page 12 They that go down to the sea in ships Fr Alan Griffin considers attitudes to those who crew the ships that sail around our shores O ne of my favourite haunts in Exeter when I was lecturing at the university was called the Ship Inn. Sir Francis Drake had felt the same: ‘Next to my own ship I do most love the Ship Inn in Exeter, a tavern in St Martin’s Lane’. The link between conviviality and seafaring people is a long one. ‘Those who go down to the sea in ships’ in our day has to include the millions whose holidays are spent on board cruise ships where every passenger’s whim is catered for. The modern link between enjoying life to the full and cruising at sea is perhaps reflected in the card I found in my cabin on an up-market cruise ship: ‘Save water - drink champagne’. It is a surprising fact that 95% of the goods we use in this country come to us by sea. That is not just food, but includes fuel, clothes, cars, electrical goods and much else besides. Every year 3000 container ships arrive at the port of Felixstowe alone. We think in terms of the ships bringing us all these imports, but that is not quite accurate. It is, of course, the seafarers who man the ships who do the hard work. We rarely see or meet them. They are almost all far away from home - often Catholics from the Philippines, India or Eastern Europe. They are often away from home for long periods, even years on end. Separation from home, family and friends brings with it tensions, worries and many problems. And when the seafarers come to a great tourist city like London, whether they come on container vessels or on cruise ships, they do not come as tourists. They spend a few hours far from the city chaplains primarily as part of the provision they sights in places like Tilbury, while the ship unloads make for the well-being of passengers and so the Cruise Chaplain’s ‘line manager’ is usually the and loads - whether this be cargo or passengers. ‘Entertainments Director’! The Apostleship of the It is not an easy life at all. Pay and working conditions Sea, however, sees its chaplains in large measure can be low by British standards, but the seafarers put as providing for the spiritual needs of the crew. Of up with them, through fear that any complaint will lead course, a good chaplain can find ways to do both! to dismissal or blacklisting. They, and their families at Priests are not unused to trying to meet different and home, need the money. In the case of those working on even conflicting expectations! cruise ships, pay and working conditions for seafarers The Apostleship of the Sea is the only Catholic are comparatively good when measured by earnings in the home countries. Catholic cruise chaplains have to organisation devoted entirely to serving the seafaring community in this country and throughout the world, walk a bit of a tightrope. regardless, of course, of seafarers’ race or religion or The cruise companies understandably see the lack of religion.