Here is the message published by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Itinerant People for “Sea Sunday”, which will be celebrated on July 12, 2015.
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To transport goods and products around the world, the global economy deeply rely on the maritime industry supported by a workforce of around 1.2 million seafarers, who at sea and in the oceans frequently facing the strong and powerful forces of nature, are managing ships of any kind and dimension.
As ports are built far away from the cities and because of the fast turnaround in loading and unloading the cargo, the crews sailing the ships are like “invisible” people. As individuals we do not acknowledge the importance and the benefits that the maritime profession brings to our life and we become aware of their work and sacrifices only when disasters strike.
In spite of the technological development that makes life on board more comfortable and easier communicating with their loved ones, the seafarers are forced to spend long months in a restricted space, away from their families. Restrictive and unjust regulations often limit the shore leave when in port and the continuous threat of piracy in many sea routes add stress while sailing. We are still confident that the ratification and coming into force of the Maritime Labor Convention 2006 by a growing number of countries, accompanied by effective inspections by flag States will result in a tangible improvement of the labor and working conditions on board of all ships.
The present day with the situation of war, violence and political instability in several countries, a new phenomenon has been affecting the shipping industry. Since last year, alongside with the coast guards and the naval forces of Italy, Malta and European Union, the merchant vessels transiting in the Mediterranean Sea have been actively involved in what is the daily occurrence of rescuing thousands and thousands of migrants trying to reach mainly the coasts of Italy in any kind of overcrowded and substandard crafts.
Since time immemorial seafarers have fulfilled the obligation to rescue people in distress at sea under any conditions. However, as it has been stressed by other maritime organizations, for the merchant vessels rescuing migrants at sea remain a health, safety and security risk for seafarers’. Commercial ships are designed to transport goods (containers, oil, gas, etc.) and all the facilities (accommodation, kitchen, bathroom, lavatories, etc.) are custom-made for the limited number of crew members on board. For these reasons merchant vessels are not equipped to provide assistance to a large number of migrants.
Seafarers are professionally qualified in their work and trained to handle a number of emergency situations but rescuing hundreds of men, women and children acting franticly while trying to reach the safety of the ship, is something that no training course in maritime school has prepared them for. Furthermore, the physical effort in doing everything is conceivable to rescue as many persons as possible and sometimes the view of numerous lifeless bodies floating on the sea, are a traumatic experience which leaves the crews exhausted and psychologically distressed needing specific psychological and spiritual support.
On Sea Sunday as Catholic Church we would like to express our appreciation to the seafarers in general for their fundamental contribution to the international trade. This year in particular, we would like to recognize the great humanitarian effort done by the crews of merchant vessels that without hesitation, sometimes risking their own life, have engaged in many rescuing operations saving thousands of migrants lives.
Our gratitude goes also to all the chaplains and volunteers of the Apostleship of the Sea for their daily commitment in serving the people of the sea; their presence in the docks is the sign of the Church in their midst and shows the compassionate and merciful face of Christ.
In conclusion, while we are appealing to the governments in Europe and in the countries of origin of migration flows, as well as to the international organizations to cooperate in searching for a durable and definite political solution to the instability in those countries, we would like also to call for more resources to be committed not only for search and rescue missions but also to prevent the trafficking and exploitation of persons escaping from a condition of conflict and poverty.
Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò
✠ Joseph Kalathiparambil