The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has shown all of us what a challenge it is to isolate from family, friends, and co-workers. That isolation has become more acute as we head into the holiday season when most of us will break with our holiday traditions and be separated from friends and families. Despite that, we are at least in the comfort of our own homes, have the ability to be with our families (virtually), and at the end of the day, are only experiencing a minor inconvenience.
But imagine for a moment working onboard a ship and being halfway around the world from your family. Overlay the geographic distancing with the restrictions in place due to COVID-19. A difficult and dangerous life has become even more lonely and isolated, but to the extreme.
That is where a small collection of Seafarers′ Centers located at various ports around the country come into play and provide help and assistance to those who work onboard ships.
The problem is, not many people give our seafarers much thought. Getting lawn furniture to Wisconsin in the middle of winter is of greater importance than worrying or giving thought to the dangers of the ocean voyage that brought the goods to the United States. Collectively, we are impatient if the goods we order don’t arrive the next day or week and we don’t give any thought as to where it is coming from or the difficulty in transporting it. We may care about the final-mile delivery driver who carries a package to our front door in the rain, but we are oblivious to the ship at sea rolling in a storm in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And while the delivery driver may work long hours leading up to the holidays, they at least get to go home when their shift is done. Someone on a ship may have weeks or months to go before getting home.
Seafarers Centers′ around the world provide basic services to vessel crews who are far away from home, and whose onshore movements are now restricted due to the coronavirus. These centers provide housing, pastoral services, a place to rest, transportation to purchase the basic necessities of life, and most importantly, a chance to decompress and have a sympathetic person to listen or help with problems back home. But, as humanitarian organizations, Seafarers′ Centers need the generosity of others in order to provide for the needs of seafarers. Fortunately, most Seafarers′ Centers are staffed by a small, but dedicated group of people who volunteer their time to help. But funding is needed to keep the operations going, especially during the worst public health crisis in over 100 years.
The coronavirus has brought out both the best and worst in people. There are clearly a lot of people in need. This holiday season, please consider contributing to your local Seafarers′ Center in order to provide assistance to a group of hardworking people, largely forgotten and ignored by the general public. You can find your local Seafarers′ Center here.
John McLaurin, president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, can be reached at email@example.com.