95% of goods imported into the UK arrive via sea transport.
There is a huge but invisible army of essential workers on the ships keeping the global shipping industry going, and as a rule we hardly give them a second thought.
Based at the Port of Grangemouth, Linlithgow resident Rev Tim Tunley is Port Chaplain for a charity dedicated to the welfare of people who work on ships – The Mission to Seafarers Scotland.
I visited him at the docks just before he was going aboard a ship, to find out why there is a need for such an organisation and to learn more about it.
“Seafaring is a unique lifestyle which can be isolating and difficult. For young cadets in particular, launched in to an adult world - and an unusual one at that – finding themselves cut off from family and friends by long tours at sea is challenging,” Tim explains. They can go many months at a time with poor or no internet, other communication challenges and conditions which are often less than ideal.
“Our mission is about making life easier for seafarers, to look after their welfare and to simply be a friend, whatever their needs are”
“Our mission is about making life easier for seafarers, to look after their welfare and to simply be a friend, whatever their needs are,” says Tim. Besides emotional support and a listening ear, the mission provides practical help. Tim can find himself in the local Asda with a shopping list for things like Toblerone, crisps or other treats that have been requested; getting takeout pizzas or even, if there is time, taking crew to visit places of interest while the ship is in dock.
During covid, crews have not been able to go ashore so the chaplaincy is the only link with land. “We go on board the ship when it docks, introduce ourselves and hang out with the crew in the mess to see what they need most.” The most frequent request relates to help with communication – getting phone cards that work here, top-ups and so on. The irony of helping crew members often half his age with their phones and tech isn’t lost on Tim! But they are usually desperate to communicate with home and loved ones, so it sounds simple but supplying phone cards and top-ups at cost means a priceless call can be made.
“We’re providing Ukranian sailors with free phone cards and top ups at the moment. They have no idea what’s going on back home - they can’t even go back home - and are finding it very difficult to communicate with loved ones."
“We’re providing Ukranian sailors with free phone cards and top ups at the moment. They have no idea what’s going on back home - they can’t even go back home - and are finding it very difficult to communicate with loved ones. Since 14.5% of the world’s seafarers are Ukrainian and Russian, there is a huge number in this situation at the moment.
Another 25% of the world’s seafarers are Filipino, and they are often supporting family members back home financially. “We provide Tagalog literature – whether or not they read it, it doesn’t matter,” says Tim, “it’s the gesture, the fact that someone cares enough to provide something in their own language while they are so far away from home and isolated.”
On one occasion group of young Filipino seafarers asked if Tim could take them to McDonald’s. So after sitting in the Grangemouth McDonald’s chatting for a couple of hours, he couldn’t help asking – “Why here?” Why, the other side of the world with so much to explore, would you want to visit a McDonald’s? The answer was, “When the McDonald’s in Manila changes the menu, the McDonald’s in Grangemouth changes; it’s the best way of feeling close to home.”
The origins of the charity are in a mission set up in 1836 by a minister in Bristol, England, who was struck by the loneliness and spiritual needs of seafarers. It developed into a worldwide organisation providing practical and emotional support to seafarers: worldwide day and night, 365 days a year, regardless of nationality, rank or gender. Mission to Seafarers Scotland is part of the worldwide organisation, but independent in that all money raised here is spent here. There are over 90 ports in Scotland, and at Grangemouth Tim boards around 60 ships per month. Alongside him a team of 20 local volunteers help with ship visits and running the Mission to Seafarers Centre – a building at the docks where crews are welcome for free wifi, hot drinks, games rooms and other facilities. All volunteers are accredited by the Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB).
“We are the only people on board the ship who are not there for money,” Tim explains. “We have a good relationship with the shipping companies and senior crews, and are grateful for the support of Forth Ports.”
Tim has been Port Chaplain here for 12 years. He trained as a minister in the Church of England, which presented a challenge when he wanted to move to Scotland, as he could not transfer to a Church of Scotland parish church. So when the opportunity came up in the Episcopalian chaplaincy at the Mission to Seafarers Scotland he jumped at it and clearly still loves the work which is varied, challenging and makes a huge difference to the (mostly young) seafarers they help.
“While the Mission is church-based, it’s a general support service combining counselling and practical help. The only question we ask is, ‘What is it like to be you today?’” he explains.
Seafarers are an invisible army without whom worldwide logistics would grind to a halt. Often overlooked and undervalued, many are at risk of loneliness, mental health issues and fatigue, to name just a few of the challenges they face.
Thanks to Mission to Seafarers Scotland, when they arrive at the Port of Grangemouth they are assured of a warm welcome and an unconditional offer of much-needed help and support.
For more information please visit www.mtss.scot or on Facebook @MTSS
Mission to Seafarers Scotland is a charity registered in Scotland, number SCO41938
Can you help?
The Mission to Seafarers Scotland relies almost entirely on donations to keep the service going, and is always grateful for any donations to support their work. If you would like to make a donation, or complete a challenge or fundraiser on behalf of the Mission, please use the JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/missiontoseafarersscotland. All donations are much appreciated.
If you are interested in volunteering with the Mission, please contact the Rev Tim Tunley on 07581 625941
Published in Konect May 2022
Author: Helen-Jane Gisbourne