As of this week I’ve officially finished my “Ship Welfare Visitor Course”. I’ve sent away to London to the Merchant Navy Welfare Board for my badge and I’ll soon be a certified ship visitor. Initially when I heard there was an entire course just on ship visiting I was a little shocked. I mean, how difficult can it be? You walk on board, say hi to some sailors, drop off some pamphlets and leave, right? Wrong. Ship visiting actually requires a lot more preparation, reflection, and skill than might initially be apparent.
The first obstacle you’ll face as a ship visitor is simply getting around the port and on board the vessel. You’ll need to get an ID badge to enter the port, special equipment like steel toed boots, a hard hat, and reflective vest to walk around on deck, and courage to climb up steep and shaky gangways. Awareness when driving around the port is key, a lesson I learned the hard way when I took a wrong turn at night and ended up in a “large trucks only” zone of a container terminal. Fortunately I was able to flag down a security van to escort me and my little Matrix out of there in one piece.
After you’ve made it to the ship your next task will be talking with seafarers. One thing that can create some awkward and hilarious situations is the language barrier. Most seafarers are from the Philippines, China, or Eastern Europe and do not speak English as their mother tongue. Last week a South Korean seafarer came to the Mission and asked me for chapstick. I wasn’t sure if we had any, but after a bit of searching I found some in our canteen and proudly brought him a tube. He gave me a strange look then looked down to the noodles he was eating …turns out he wanted chopsticks not chapstick. This was a bit embarrassing for me, but we both laughed it off. Generally seafarers have good English because it’s the official language spoken on board most ships, but occasionally you’ll encounter crew members who speak very little English. It’s helpful to learn a few words in the native language of the crew in order to forge a stronger connection and show that you care about their culture.
One of the biggest things I’ve been learning as a self-professed extrovert and chatterbox is that talking is not the important part, listening is. Active listening can be one of your best tools as a ship visitor. Showing that you care about seafarers’ lives and demonstrating a willingness to listen can lead to deeper conversations. Some of the most meaningful connections I’ve had so far include a conversation I had with a Cadet of 22 who confessed to crying for 3 days straight when he left his home in the Philippines and set out to sea for the first time, a discussion I had with a Chief Engineer about how his faith keeps him going at sea, and a chat I had with a young woman seafarer where she told me that despite her brave face she’s been missing her home in South Korea a lot. These conversations help you to realize that your work is indeed valuable to seafarers. As our chaplain pointed out recently in a conversation with a South African seafarer – if we visit a hundred ships and find even one seafarer that is having a tough time and finds encouragement through our work, then our job is worth it because each and every sailor is valuable to God and to us.
Mon to Fri 10AM - 2PM (always someone there after 3:15pm)
It is suggested you call first.