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Mission News

05 Mar 2015

Offering shelter from the storm

Located on the Yarra River at 717 Flinders St, Docklands, the Mission to Seafarers (MtS) has operated as part of the seafaring community since 1917.

So far this year, more than 1500 seafarers have visited the mission and certainly, from the MtS Flying Angel Club (as it is known to seafarers), via Seafarers’ Rest and across Seafarers’ Bridge, the precinct has a distinctly maritime theme that welcomes visiting crew to a “home away from home” during their shore leave.

The MtS is one of Australia’s oldest charitable institutions dating back to 1857 in the port of Melbourne, and provides an on-shore facility and extended services that operate daily from 10m to 10pm.   

Visiting crew know that it’s a “sure thing” during their leave, that between Southbank’s DFO stores and JB Hi-Fi, they can get most of their necessary items.  It’s kind of like going camping – preparing for a long stretch “out bush” without communication and conveniences and then, after time, you stop at a place for supplies. Arriving in port is like this for seafarers, except they are not camping. Rather, they are working to tight timelines, so shore-leave and convenience are important.

At any one time, there are about 1.4 million seafarers at sea.  The seafaring community is responsible for 95 per cent of world trade and we rely on them to bring our daily needs.

For the MtS, January was a sorrowful start to the year.  Reports of the loss of seven Polish and one Filipino crew from a cargo ship MV Cemfjord and, just days later, two Filipino seafarers were reported to have perished in the sinking of the Bahamas-flagged bulk carrier Bulk Jupiter. From this incident, a further 16 other crewmen were reported missing, and are now feared dead.   

At this time, MtS Cyprus Port Chaplain, Ken Wiseman, is a voice of advocacy for the welfare of the seafarers’ families impacted by the tragedy.  

Henri Nouwen, a Dutch-born priest, professor and writer once said: “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing ... not healing, not curing ... that is a friend who cares.”  

For seafarers, their shore leave is profoundly important and their interaction with a MtS port chaplain or volunteers can be healing and helpful.  

During March you can visit the My Little Melbourne Girl exhibition at Library at the Dock.  The exhibition from MtS Victoria’s Heritage Collection, shares an insight into the life of the mission in the early 1920s.  

Of course, whilst much has changed in shipping since then, the now heritage-listed MtS building remains active daily and so does the need for community for those who otherwise live and work in isolated and often harsh conditions at sea.  

If you are interested to support this work please visit the website http://www.missiontoseafarers.com.au.  You can also find Mission to Seafarers Victoria on Facebook or visit 717 Flinders St, Docklands.

Andrea Fleming is CEO of the Mission to Seafarers

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