In the month of May, SMOU and the Mission to Seafarers Singapore (MTSS) came together to celebrate Labour Day with the seafarers at Jurong Port. SMOU officials visited the drop-in centre as well as vessels docked at the port, including one of SMOU’s CBA ship, MV Fengning. A feast of local treats, along with 300 goodie bags filled with snacks and essential items were prepared for the seafarers to bring them cheer and to appreciate the hard work they have been doing. On one of the evenings, some 47 seafarers joined in the celebration at the drop-in centre. It was a short respite for the seafarers as they enjoy the centre’s facilities – massage chair, high speed internet to video call their family members, pool table, local fare with plenty of stories and encouragements exchanged.
During the interaction, Second Engineer Felix Mascharenhas shared with SMOU his thoughts on the easing of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
He shared how the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic had been very challenging for seafarers like himself. “Not only are we away from our family, but there is also no stepping off the ship for fresh air as well,” he explained. However, as Singapore is beginning to open up its borders, he expressed happiness and excitement at the fact that seafarers can now get off the ship without having to do a swab test.
“We have been docked here for a long time and it is nice that with this opening up, we can now leave the vessel, go out, get some fresh air and mingle with people,” he said.
He ended off by thanking SMOU for their kind gesture; for conducting these ship visits to remind seafarers that there are people who are thinking of and caring for them.
First Shore leave out of the pandemic
Captain Seyjad a Bangladeshi national, was one such seafarer who shared that the past 2 years have been extremely tough for seafarers, likening the experience to being imprisoned. However, he expressed happiness that this was the first time in 5 months of his current voyage that he could leave his ship. “Being able to come off the ship is very enjoyable and a good feeling. I am impressed with the party that has been organised here at the seamen’s club, and I wish that more countries will have such facilities to appreciate seafarers,” said Captain Seyjad.
Thanking SMOU for the gesture, he said “I am really pleased and grateful to SMOU, and I wish SMOU will continue showing their appreciation for seafarers to let them know that they are not alone.”
A Chief Engineer looking out for his crew
Mr T. Gopi Krishna, a Chief Engineer from India, was spotted enjoying the facilities and food at the drop-in centre. “More than the food, it’s the atmosphere of being outside of the vessel,” he remarked as he explained how shore visits are very important for seafarers’ mental health, especially those that are sailing on long voyages.
When asked about his experience sailing during the pandemic, Gopi said that seafarers were more worried about their families back at home, as they themselves were usually safe from the virus on the ship. Seafarers however faced many other challenges.
He recalled crew members who had their contracts extended to almost 12 months approaching him for help, but all he could offer were only words of encouragement. During the pandemic, medical attention for seafarers was hard to arrange for due to port restrictions. As a Chief Engineer, Gopi had to encourage his crew to exercise caution while performing their duties so that medical emergencies could be avoided.
On the bright side, Chief Engineer Gopi Krishna was quick to praise SMOU saying, “SMOU has done wonderfully! Because we can’t go out, SMOU came on board to us, and asked us for whatever we wanted. They gave us 2 Carrom boards and 1 chessboard.” The union had visited his vessel 1 week ago to ask the crew for items that SMOU could purchase and gift to them – to which Chief Engineer Gopi said that the crew was very touched that SMOU even bothered to care and ask.
Contracting COVID-19 and remembering the good old days
Also experiencing shore leave for the first time since the pandemic, he reminisced of the times when seafarers were able to freely visit cities which ports their ships called at. “I want to meet new people, and go to the city to buy souvenirs and have a big steak,’ he remarked, hoping that things will revert back to how it was soon.
Second Engineer Viacheslav is sailing his third ‘pandemic-contract’. He has faced certain challenges during this time, and in particular his previous voyage where his contract was truncated due to a suspicion of COVID-19 infection. He developed a sore throat and runny nose but did not have a fever.
The company then decided while the vessel was at the port in Algiers, for him to return home to Ukraine where he took a test and verified that he was COVID-19 negative. Viacheslav waited for a month to sign-on his next contract and when the time came to sign the contract, he tested positive. He chuckled as he said in amusement “When I was on ship, I was ok. When I went home, I was ok. But when I test to go on ship, it was no good. So, I had to wait another month.” All things considered, he was glad to be able to work again and holds a positive outlook to the situation.
After a long 2-year battle with COVID-19, the world is gaining ground and the situation, especially for seafarers, is starting to look more like pre-pandemic times. We thank our seafarers for their hard work, perseverance, and invaluable contribution as key workers to the maritime industry and the global supply chains. As barriers to international travel become more relaxed, SMOU urges nations and shipping companies to support seafarers and their mental health by relaxing the rules for shore leave.