Sailors Society – Enhancing the well- being of merchant seafarers worldwide

sailors society


Do you know about the Sailors Society??

We have recently been looking at the work this organisation does for seafarers and below are some details on the fantastic work they do.

Did you know…

Over 90% of the world’s trade is transported over the sea. But who are the invisible people that get it from here to there? And why should you care?

How about these reasons:

  • 1.5 million men and women are working at sea.
  • They are away from home and family for 9-12 months.
  • 81% of them can’t access email to check on loved ones for the whole time they are at sea.
  • Their families won’t know for weeks if they are abandoned in a foreign port, have a serious accident on board ship or are attacked by pirates.
  •  The chair you’re sitting in, the screen you’re reading this on and the clothes you’re wearing probably all got there thank to seafarers like them.

The Sailors Society held out a hand to more than 345,000 seafarers last year.

What do the Sailors Society do?


The Sailors Society maintain a staff of professional chaplains who offer the hand of friendship, pastoral support and practical welfare help to seafarers the world over.

Their chaplains visit thousands of ships and ports each year in order to reach as many seafarers as possible. They seek out seafarers’ families, ex-seafarers and seafarers in hospital or prison on shore and help wherever needed.

The seafarers’ centres are a place to go in a foreign port, a welcoming home from home. Our chaplains are a family for those who feel lost and lonely.

To seafarers they bring:

  • Means of communication – international SIM cards, access to Skype and email so that seafarers can contact their families and loved ones.
  • Transport – to local amenities, shops or just a green space.
  • Local knowledge – maps, port directories and currency to help seafarers find their feet in new places.
  • God’s love – worship services on-board and on shore, prayer with groups or individuals and companionship.
  • A patient ear – listening to troubles held onto over the long voyage and providing solace.
  • Relief from poverty – financial aid when times are hard, when seafarers find themselves stranded, out of work, or injured.
  •  A voice – mediation between the seafarer and the authorities and unions, flagging up concerns so that a troubled seafarer is not overlooked.
  • To families of seafarers they bring:
  • Relief from poverty – practical and financial aid when times are hard, when seafarers find themselves stranded, out of work, or injured.
  •  Unconditional friendship – when the agony of separation is too much to bear, when there has been no word of safe arrival, when a seafarer is lost or in danger.
  • Education – for the children of out of work seafarers, or aspiring seafarers living in poverty.

Below is an overview Statistics from a typical year in our ministry

sea farers diagram


Below is a vidoe talking to the Sailors Society our port chaplain Phil Denyer about what donators support means to the seafarers that come into ports in South Wales

Click here to find out more about where the Sailors Society about their work or click here to donate

A Student Perspective: The Role of the Trade Unions: ITF Seafarers Point of View

Nowadays, due to the globalized world economy there are tremendous numbers of shipping companies and port operators, which in order to be competitive and decrease their selling prices push their workers beyond their limits. Therefore, many trade unions have been created in recent years aiming at defending the seafarers all over the world. Their main objectives are to assure better working and living environment for all workers and to protect their human rights. Moreover, all these unions are trying to achieve good employment rates and higher payments for everyone no matter of their nationality.

Such a union is ITF, which is an international trade union federation of transport workers’ unions created in 1896 in London, UK. It represents millions of transport workers and seafarers in more than 150 million countries. Some of the basic purposes of the union is protecting of the crew members worldwide and working for peace and social justice. Furthermore, it is one of the global union federations cooperating with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) (Karavatchev 2014, p. 2).

The activities of the union can be summarized as following: representation, information, and practical solidarity. ITF promotes the seafarer interests in every country no matter of the ship’s flag they are sailing (Karavachev 2014, p.3). In my opinion, it is really hard to protect the workers everywhere in the world, because I am sure that one organization cannot solve every problem. It seems that ITF is trying to do its best by providing the mariners with good education and certificates and by training them according to the highest standards. However, we do all know that there are so many seafarers who do not have enough experience. Moreover, it is true that many seafarers have to pay a lot of money to get the necessary certificates because they do no have sufficient knowledge.

Despite these facts, such kinds of unions are extremely important for the seamen because the latter know that there is someone who is going to support them and their families without any discrimination. Furthermore, the ITF can handle the negotiations with the shipowner and any other parties if it is necessary and it does not tolerate any aggression in case the mariners are not treated as they should be; for instance, unpaid wages or lack of safe working conditions. In such cases the trade union assists and helps the mariners to deal with their problems.

Furthermore, the ITF is trying to deal with problems like maritime security and piracy. For example, one of the cases in which the trade union took action was in 2010, when the crew of the Al-Nisr Al-Saudi oil tanker was captured by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. And in addition of the stress that the crew and their families felt because of the pirates, the shipowner did not pay the seafarers salaries for a period of two months. What was the role of ITF? The ITF was trying to negotiate with the pirates and the shipowner so as to solve the seafarers’ problems and to end the piracy (ITF Seafarers, 2010). Based on such examples, what we can easily see is that a trade union, like the ITF, has to deal with very critical situations.

Every worker in the world needs to be treated well and his/her fundamental human rights to be respected. However, we all know that there are many cases in which this was not met by the employer. Therefore, I do strongly believe that the role of trade unions like the ITF is really important based on the fact that they can protect the seafarers and their families, when they are at sea or ashore. The main aims of the ITF union are to support the transport workers throughout the world, and to negotiate with any party in situation of conflict without any discrimination or aggression. Also, it is trying to provide them good living and working conditions.


• ITF Seafarers (2014), ITF Agreements [Online]. [Accessed on 4th March 2014] Available at:
• ITF Seafarers (2010), Pirates demand US$20 million to free oil tanker [Online]. [Accessed on 2nd March 2014] Available at:
• Karavatchev, R. (2014), The Role of Trade Unions: ITF Seafarers Point of View, Case Studies in Maritime Policy, Topic 7

Romina Ivanova, MA International Maritime Policy

Voyages of Separation: Modern Container Ships and Seafarers

A visit to a jetty at the little port of Harwich on England’s east coast, facing the North Sea, is a good place to get a glimpse of the modern global shipping industry’s enormous scale. From this vantage point the much bigger Felixstowe port on the opposite bank of the River Orwell can be seen in panoramic view in all its glory: bustling activity along the waterfront with a long line of huge container ships loading and discharging.

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Even for maritime professionals well-acquainted with this shipping sector, it is an impressive sight, underlining the vastness of international seaborne trade in containerised goods of all sorts and varieties. But only a small part of the population sees this vital maritime activity at Felixstowe or elsewhere in ports around the world and, among those who do, many will be blissfully unaware of its true significance. Mostly these ships, and indeed other vessel types, and the ports which serve them, are well hidden from public view in remote locations.

That is why a new book by Rose George published last year, entitled ‘Deep Sea and Foreign Going’, provides a valuable contribution to understanding the importance of this obscured-from-view industry. The author’s voyage on a container ship from the UK to Asia is the setting. In particular, the narrative offers a fascinating insight into the working lives of the people who make it happen, the seafarers.

Clearly described is the difficult and, at times, potentially very dangerous environment in which seafarers not only work but totally exist for periods of many months while employed on long-distance voyages. There is no escape from the working environment while a ship is at sea (virtually all the time). These circumstances are not comprehended by most users of the goods which the ships transport. Many consumers have no idea how electrical or electronic devices, for instance, get to the shops from the manufacturers in China, Korea or other origins. Some think it all arrives by air freight. There is even less understanding of what seafarers have to encounter, and their separation indeed isolation from the civilised world, living in a small and sometimes not very sociable closed community, while serving at sea for extended periods.

Despite these features, Rose George acknowledges on page 9 that “seafaring can be a good life”. Another acknowledgement is that “most ship owners operate decent ships that are safe, and pay their crews properly” (page 86). On the other hand, some owners hide behind a flag of the open registry variety and cut corners, which can lead to disasters for both ship and crew. And, disturbingly, in concluding comments on page 265, the author quotes the master of the container ship on which she travelled as saying that the crew are “mere chattels, a human resource, dispensible non-entities”. This opinion is not exactly a ringing endorsement of comfortable relationships between managements and seafarers.

It is a highly readable book, quite gripping in parts, written in an easy-going style. Ignoring some lengthy deviation about a ship rescue in the second world war, and whale preservation in the northeastern USA, it serves a useful purpose. But as an educational exercise, for the general public, presumably the author’s aim as a piece of ‘investigative journalism’, much more could have been said about the global container shipping industry. A few short paragraphs of miscellaneous and not especially helpful industry statistics, as background, are insufficient to provide meaningful context.

One essential fact, which could have been included as contextual information for the aspects identified during the voyage, is that container ships now comprise 13 percent of the world fleet of all cargo vessels, a fleet including many other important ship types. Another is that container ships numbered 5,106 at the end of 2012, with a capacity of 16.2 million teu (twenty foot equivalent units, the standard measurement), based on data from Clarksons Research. Container ship fleet growth over the preceding decade was 168 percent and capacity continues to rise. And increasing ship sizes – 18,000 teu leviathans are joining the fleet, compared with vessels only half that size which were the norm only a few years ago – are a feature of progress, ensuring more economical transportation.

Another storyline emphasis might have been the services these ships provide for global manufacturing industry, how container services are organised and why they are so effective and efficient. World seaborne containerised goods shipments are estimated to total over 1.5 billion tonnes per year currently, after almost doubling during the past decade. Ocean freight cost is generally a low proportion of most products’ value. The impact on, and advantages for, the globalisation process are apparent. Many countries have been integrated into the global trading system when previously they were on the fringes, if participating at all.

None of the foregoing maritime achievements are satisfactorily set out in ‘Deep Sea and Foreign Going’. Arguably, such a preliminary discussion is required for a balanced view to be offered. Nevertheless, the book certainly has great merit in opening eyes to the stark realities of seafarers’ lifestyles and, frequently, the lack of attention paid to this noble profession. Many spectators standing on the remote Essex jetty watching the impressive ships coming and going could gain a useful perspective by reading it.

Richard Scott, Visiting Lecturer, Greenwich Maritime Institute and MD, Bulk Shipping Analysis