In each newsletter, GCC BDI focuses on an NGO as part of our effort to support these organisations and the voluntary work they do. In this issue, we look at Mission to Seafarers, a wonderful organisation that helps to protect the region’s vulnerable sailors.
Dr Paul Burt, Regional Director, Mission to Seafarers (MtS), Gulf and South Asia speaks to the GCC BDI about his organisation’s support for UAE based sailors
How does MtS support seafarers in the UAE? What services does MtS provide?
MtS (UAE) provides material, psychological and spiritual support to seafarers in the ports and anchorages of the UAE. This includes getting food and water to abandoned crews whose supplies have run out and whose employers either will not or cannot support them. We also provide counselling and advice on family, personal and professional matters.
MtS’s own roots are Christian (C of E), so we are always happy to pray with and for seafarers when the seafarer himself asks us to. Most seafarers come from societies where religious faith is central to life, and the obvious dangers of life at sea (e.g. storms) mean that the ‘faith’ dimension is the accepted norm. MtS UAE spends much of its time also acting as an advocate for seafarers whose salaries have not been paid or who have not been allowed to ‘sign off’ despite having finished their contracts.
What general precautions can seafarers take to ensure their basic safety on the seas?
Basic safety is covered by training which leads to certification and qualification (for example, in areas such as swimming and handling machinery). There are also procedures that must be followed on board when facing natural or manmade dangers, such as storms or piracy for example. Underlying all this is the importance of being well prepared and following recognised recruitment procedures. This is where the real dangers lurk for many seafarers working on vessels out of UAE ports because a high proportion of them obtain fraudulent certificates from Mumbai crooks. This means that they have no protection when it comes to legal matters relating to employment and insurance matters when it comes to loss. They are also in debt to these crooked agents. So the best precaution is for them not to use such agencies. However, it is almost impossible to educate the whole of Indian society in such precautions, which is what it would take to make a difference. The situation is further aggravated by some UAE-based ship owners using such dodgy agencies and asking them to specifically obtain unqualified crews – because they are much cheaper to employ than properly qualified crews (A qualified captain costs $6000 per month. An unqualified one costs $2000 per month).
What are the particular dangers for UAE seafarers?
In most respects, ‘UAE seafarers’ mean ‘seafarers working out of UAE ports or in UAE waters’. This is because there are very few seafarers who are UAE nationals; the relatively few locals work either for DP World or for the sheikhs, so they are well paid and cared for.
Many dhows operating out of UAE creeks and ports have UAE and Iranian crews, and their conditions can be very poor in terms of safety, pay and health. Our gift-giving campaigns are aimed at the dhow crews especially.
How has the oil price downturn affected seafarers and the shipping industry?
The offshore sector of the maritime industry is particularly important in the Gulf for obvious reasons. Since the fall in the price of oil form $115 to about $50 this sector has gone into ‘survival’ mode. Many offshore vessels are without work and many companies operating in the sector have scaled back their operations to the bare minimum. This means that jobs for seafarers in this sector are much harder to come by and those who are retained as crews are having to endure reduced, or in many cases, non-existent salaries.
Many abandoned crews are on offshore vessels, including offshore supply and tugs. Some crews have not had any salary for over 12 months, and, in the worst cases, for over 18 months. MtS UAE works as a mediator in trying to get these crews their salaries while retaining the respect of the ship owners, many of whom are suffering severe cash flow problems as they in turn wait for their clients to pay them.
How can people donate to MtS?
We are currently re-designing our online donation receipt system and hope to have it up and running shortly. That will be the easiest way for individual donors to donate. In the meantime, we are accepting cheques.