PARSONS: Caring for the seafarers from home during quarantine

April 28, 2020

I had a whole different article planned for this month, but our world had to stop and regroup quite suddenly in this crisis.

On March 17, I decided it wasn’t safe for the seafarers onboard ships or me to continue ship visits. That is when I packed up my office and brought it all home to shift to my correspondence ministry full time.

The COVID-19 epidemic had been ravaging the Eastern hemisphere for months before many people took much notice here. But those of us visiting ships with crews from Asia and Europe were already hearing the fears from seafarers worried about family members back home.

The day I decided to pack up my office was the day I heard a truck driver at the security gate in Texas City say, “All this coronavirus %^&* is stupid. I’m not doing anything different.” I knew it was too risky to be out there.

Immediately I began reaching out to the seafarers on my intensive care list. One of which is a young man named Sampath from Sri Lanka. Sampath had lost his hand in an accident aboard a ship in 2008 just before Hurricane Ike.

I spent countless hours with him in the hospital as he endured 22 surgeries while he was here. He told me on March 15 there were only 11 cases of the virus in Sri Lanka. We communicated again three days later, and the cases were up to 50.

In the U.S. that day, the cases were just over 2,000. On March 24, just six days later, the cases in Sri Lanka grew to 102, but the number in the U.S. was a staggering 50,000. A few days after that, Sri Lanka was holding around 117, but the U.S. had skyrocketed to over 130,000.

I reached out to a Croatian captain, whom I have been writing to for years. In his email, he said he cannot go home. His contract is over, but his shipping company is not repatriating any crew for now. No one is leaving the ship, and no one is coming on board.

Many shipping companies are following the same protocol. So, those who are at home are without pay, and those who are done with their contracts, are stuck away from their families. The Croatian Captain wrote, “Somehow, your letters make my heart full always... My family is all OK. Thanks to your friends from the balcony (God). My wife, she thanks him too!”

In the two weeks I have been working from home, I have written over 263 letters to seafarers and their families from 22 different countries and nine different states. I have sent messages out to two of our cruise ships to give the crew relations specialists my email address to distribute among the crew if anyone should need a prayer or someone to listen.
This is a global crisis. Seafarers are away from their families while they continue to bring much-needed goods to our shores. They are vulnerable out there.

A virus on board could wipe out an entire crew. They cannot go home when their contracts are over because of restrictions right now. I might be stuck in my house to keep my family and community safe, but I have not and will not abandon God’s People of the Sea. 

Karen M. Parsons, OFS, is a port chaplain with the Apostleship of the Sea.