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"I miss the sea, I miss my ship"

Sailors' Society's Programme and Community Projects Manager Claire Gaulier (second right) travelled to the Philippines to see how Sailors' Society is supporting seafaring communities
Sailors' Society's Programme and Community Projects Manager Claire Gaulier (second right) travelled to the Philippines to see how Sailors' Society is supporting seafaring communities

During a recent visit of our projects in the Philippines, I met with some members of Borongan Seafarer Centre, which Sailors’ Society has been financially supporting for some years now.

As my visit was announced a couple of weeks before, retired seafarers made sure that the word would go around and I was warmly welcome by all the members, their wives and some of their children, as well as spouses of seafarers currently at sea.

The members are a group of very proactive retired seafarers. They currently have 18 members in their mid-50s. When I went on this visit, I was expecting to see much older seafarers but reality shows that in this field of work, unless you have been working for the same company on a regular basis, it is unlikely that agencies will recruit seafarers over the age of 50.

Half of them have also developed health conditions while on the job and have been forced to retire early. An expression came very often in the conversations I had: “I really miss it: I miss the sea, I miss my ship.”

Our Family Outreach Officer, Iris, visits the group once a month. As part of her activities, she takes the time to catch up with each one of the members or relatives. 

One retired member caught my attention. Dominador works full time, he rents a tricycle and offers his transport services as many hours as he can every day to pay for the rent and bring the surplus back home.

His wife is working in a local restaurant but he has two sons who are still at school. One of his sons shares the same passion for the sea and would like to become a seafarer; Dominador knows the life of seafarer well and understands that if his son wants to succeed with his dream, his best chance is to go to a maritime academy. This is an investment that they cannot afford and this is why Dominador works so hard despite his health problems.

During his last contract on board, Dominador fell.

The ship was on its way to Oregon and they had to hospitalise him there. He was in a very bad shape and had to go through surgery. Fortunately he was well organised and had a good contract. His company looked after him, his healthcare and covered the cost of his repatriation back home once his health improved.

Dominador didn’t want to retire and it has been very difficult for him to accept his new life without seafaring.

He is a strong man, and with the support received at the Seafarer Centre and from his family, Dominador is back on his feet and supporting his family and other seafarers who are forced to retire.

Role of our family outreach officers:

  • Manage welfare grants
  • Facilitate information and activities to support their activities
  • Build capacity to help retired seafarers to become more independent and improve their quality of life

The centre offers a space in the community where current and retired seafarers and their families can:

  • Meet their peers
  • Find a listening ear where people understand the problems faced
  • Enjoy similar activities
  • Support each other in times of difficulty

They have a plan for 2017… and asked for Sailors' Society's support to make it happen.

Generate income for the centre by:

  • Fishing activities with their new boat and selling fish at the centre
  • Opening a grocery/convenience store in the centre
  • Offering transport services for seafaring families and ships visits in neighbouring ports

The income generated through these activities will go towards: a laptop, Wi-Fi connection which will enable video calls for seafarers’ wives/children, maintenance of the centre and to buy a minibus.