Piracy, mental health among real issues for sailors: chaplain

31 July 2019

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

On the mainland, most references to pirates are made in jest, but a chaplain to sailors in the British Columbia ports of Delta and Vancouver says piracy is still a serious threat to those to whom he ministers.

“Piracy is a terrifying experience for seafarers,” said Deacon Dileep Athaide, a Catholic chaplain with the Apostleship of the Sea.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, 57 ships were boarded, three were hijacked, and nine were fired upon by armed pirates between January and June in 2019. In five separate incidents, 21 crew members were kidnapped.

Most of these attacks took place in the Gulf of Guinea, but while that may seem a world away to people living and working in B.C., it’s not so for those working on ships in international waters.

“Piracy and the threat of piracy can have a lasting effect on seafarers’ wellbeing and mental health,” said Deacon Athaide. “Our experience of caring for seafarers shows that swift intervention is essential to minimize the impact of a pirate attack, so crews can return to work with confidence.”

The deacon boards ships docked at local ports just about every day to ask sailors how they are doing, deliver fresh pastries and blessed rosaries, and offer a listening ear or prayer for any of their concerns.

Deacon Athaide (in red and white vestments) with sailors on a ship loaded with Canadian wheat and bound for Peru. He blessed the ship and celebrated a Liturgy of the Word with the crew members.

Deacon Athaide timed his comments on piracy ahead of Sea Sunday, July 14. Also drawing attention to the plight of seafarers that day was Pope Francis, who tweeted:

@pontifex: “Today we celebrate Sea Sunday, dedicated to seafarers and fishermen. I pray for them and their families, and I encourage every effort to protect and safeguard their human rights.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, also issued a statement urging people to pray for and authorities to stand up for those who “crisscross the oceans and the seas, transporting almost 90 per cent of goods from one nation to another.”

In addition to piracy, Cardinal Turkson said sailors can face isolation, delayed salaries, difficult working conditions, and even terrorist attacks.

“Isolation and depression, combined with a lack of a supportive environment, affects the mental health of seafarers, sometimes with tragic and heartbreaking consequences for their families, crewmembers, and ship owners.”

Deacon Athaide grills burgers and hot dogs for sailors on International Day of the Seafarer June 25.

For his part, Deacon Athaide strives to make every sailor he meets in Delta or Vancouver feel welcome, listened to, and valued. That included blessing a fleet of fishing boats June 15 and celebrating International Day of the Seafarer with prayer and barbecues at the downtown Seafarer Centre and Roberts Bank June 25.

Apostleship of the Sea (also called Stella Maris) is an international Catholic organization. It was founded in Glasgow, Scotland, and is preparing to celebrate 100 years of serving the pastoral and welfare needs of seafarers there next fall.

(The BC Catholic)

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