COVID-19 in the docks

21 Dec 2020

By Eric Leslie Martin

By Eric Martin

Deacon Patrick Moore delivers a care package to a ship docked at Fremantle Port. Photo: Supplied.
Fremantle Port stayed busy throughout the pandemic and the vital work of ministering to seafarers also continued in a limited manner – here, Deacon Patrick Moore delivers a care package to a ship docked at Fremantle Port in a COVID-19 manner. Photo: Supplied.

This year, 2020, the year of COVID-19 also marks the 100th anniversary of the Church’s ministry to seafarers through Stella Maris and unsurprisingly, it is the effects of the pandemic that have occupied Stella Maris centres in ports across Australia and around the world.

“This anniversary comes at a time when seafarers are facing particularly challenging times. COVID-19 restrictions mean some men and women can’t even set foot on dry land for months on end. Tens of thousands of people are also working without any sense of security due to expired contracts,” said Bishop Bosco Puthur, Bishop Promoter for Stella Maris Australia.

Western Australia, with its economic reliance on the bulk shipping of commodities, dealt with several ships arriving in port carrying COVID-19. This led to public calls to restrict crew changes, turn away ships and even close the ports in October.

Ports became the frontline in containing the virus, with ships such as the iron ore bulk carrier Vega Dream and the manganese carrier Patricia Oldendorff docking with infected crews in Port Hedland and in Fremantle, livestock carrier Al Messilah saw 24 crew members test positive for COVID-19.

Australian’s attention was also recently refocussed on the plight of seafarers with the disappearance of the Gulf Livestock 1 ship at the beginning of September, when it was hit by two typhoons off the coast of Japan. Last November, 22 of the crew had visited Stella Maris Fremantle; of those men, four were still working on the ship when she was lost.

Bishop Puthur said the maritime disaster, involving two Australian crewmen, had made the news in in Australia only because of the local connection and there have been dozens of shipwrecks in 2020 that went largely unreported.

Deacon Patrick Moore, the Director of Stella Maris in Fremantle, said that the anniversary “comes at a time when it is very difficult for Stella Maris to do much at all to assist seafarers.” 

“Since our centre in Fremantle was closed in March because of the pandemic, we have tried to respond to requests from seafarers to acquire items of shopping for them and to deliver them to the ship,” Dcn Moore said.

“With monies generously donated by an American maritime foundation we have been making up ‘care packs’ to give to the crew and to date, our volunteers have packed over 1750 small bags of goodies and delivered them to over 75 ships.”

“We were also able to help a young Filipino officer who had been serving continuously on his ship for over 16 months,” he continued.

“In the end, he collapsed and was picked up from his ship by helicopter and taken to Fiona Stanley Hospital.

“Stella Maris helped him with new clothing and generally supported him until he was well enough to go home to Cebu.”