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Apostleship of the Sea European Conference - summary

Apostleship of the Sea European Conference
Port de Bouce, France
22 – 26 September 2011

23 September

Fr. Edward Pracz, AOS Regional Coordinator for Europe welcomed all delegates to the conference. He declared that AoS is one global family, serving the people of the sea on the move. After a welcome from the Mayor of Port de Bouc, Mrs. Patricia Fernandez-Pédinielli, Father Bruno Ciceri brought a message from the President of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People. Father Bruno declared that AoS Europe has a good tradition of solidarity and cooperation. He asked delegates to consider how we could develop a system where AoS personnel could be exchanged between different countries, thereby giving our chaplains a richer, more diverse experience. According to Father Bruno the strength of AoS is in our international network which is such that no one should have to work in isolation.

Regarding the XXIIIrd AoS World Congress 2012, the theme is the New Evangelisation. Details about the conference will be circulated in due course. Father Bruno asked whether or not we should have a World Congress/European Conference focused exclusively on AoS personnel working with fishers? Guidelines for cruise ministry are proving difficult to finalise as the 1997 Motu Proprio does not refer to cruise ministry. This leaves some unresolved canonical problems, not least regarding which Bishop is responsible for appointing cruise chaplains. Father Bruno is inclined not to issue any cruise guidelines until these canonical issues have been resolved.

Father Bruno reported that AoS is increasingly involved in international efforts to tackle piracy and support those affected.

Professor Henryk Sławiński

Professor Sławiński declared that there is no more convincing way to witness to God’s love than through service, action and deeds. Action and deeds are fundamental for a persuasive Christian witness. It is a reality that can be lived, not just a beautiful philosophy. Witness can be most effective in ordinary and spiritual ways. We must all be nourished by the word of God. That we are not perfect does not exclude us from giving witnesses to the love of Christ. We need to know God’s love through forgiveness of our sins. The power in our lives is God’s word, not what we do. The best interpretation of scripture is to live according to it.

The parable of the Good Samaritan provides us with a guide to witness through service. The obligation of AoS chaplains and volunteers is to stop beside every person on the move, to be alongside them. No person can find himself unless through a gift of himself.

Philanthropy is derived from the concept of goodwill for people. It is more than mere justice. It is connected with an expression of gratitude and an increase in social status. However, philanthropy is insufficient for the practice of our apostolate. Our apostolate is not concerned for one’s own satisfaction but the satisfaction of others. Christian love’s intrinsic element is charity. Love of neighbour leads to an encounter with God. Like Christ’s love, it is unconditional. Our efforts need to be grounded in the love of Christ. There is no true evangelisation unless the name of Christ is proclaimed. St. Vincent de Paul said that service to the needy should be preferred above all else and confirmed without delay. When you leave prayer to help someone in need remember that you are serving God. Service on behalf of the needy should be well organised.

Contemplation is a source of charitable activity. Through contemplation one enters into communion with God and reconciles one’s will to God’s will. Spontaneity must be combined with organisation, planning and professionalism. We need to know when it is better to speak of God and when it is better to let love speak.

Father Dirk Demaeght

Fr. Dirk explained that AoS has four port chaplains in Belgium. Our pastoral commission is to ‘Go out into the world and proclaim the Good News’. We evangelise fishermen, ship to ship, crew to crew, man to man. We recognise we are weak and vulnerable in our Church. However, we must overcome this fear and be consistent in our approach. If St. Paul had pursued our current approach he would not have succeeded.

Fr. Dirk advised that we need to know our target group – the fishing community. We must look beyond the sinful, the coarse language etc. Fishermen want to be understood, treated with respect and to learn something about their profession. As such we need to encourage them and have empathy for their concerns. You live with them and become one of them.

Fishermen believe in God more than Jesus. God is an ineffable force on the sea.

Fr. Dirk outlined some projects he and his colleagues have launched to demonstrate love through service. These include the following:

  • Observation trips for 13-14 year olds – fishery education.
  • Having a training vessel so that fishing techniques can be learnt.
  • ‘Look after my sheep’ – Fr. Dirk has, with the Belgian government, produced a guidance book for dealing with fishery accidents.
  • A national emergency fund providing material and financial help to families in need.
  • An anti-drug campaign – ‘Clean ship, no shit’.
  • The ‘Be Vigilant’ safety at sea campaign. This resulted in the production of a safety manual.
  • ‘Man over board’ initiative. 80% of accidents at sea are the result of human error. Do we not have a moral duty to give sailors and fishers electronic tags or tracking devices which would enable us to locate them more easily when they are lost at sea?
  • An initiative to strengthen the pride of the fishing community and increase its social standing. An attempt was made to address people’s concerns about the insecurity of fishing career which has resulted in a new social statute for the Belgian fisherman.

Whilst Fr. Dirk fully endorsed the Biblical call for a responsible approach towards fishing, allied to a responsible approach to nature more generally, he said that there is a danger that the green, environmental movement can make fishermen feel guilty and embarrassed for what they do. Fishermen are strongly committed to ecology and sustainable living as they believe that the fruits of their work are God’s gift. However, when traditional Christian religions crumble, secular religions thrive with their apocalyptic predictions. The words of Psalm 8 could have come straight from a fisherman’s mouth.

Fishermen respect the Sabbath day. Not fishing on this day allows fishing grounds time to recover. Is this not a hint for Governments?

We need to help fishermen to believe in their future and further develop an ecological mindset.

24 September

Captain Lampros Nellas

Piracy is a disease which is spreading fast. The problem for seafarers is not just whether they sail through piracy affected waters, but what happens if they are captured? What happens after they are captured.

In the Indian Ocean there is no place to hide from the pirates. How have we arrived in this position? We have powerful navies and yet are being out-thought by young men with sandals and minimal equipment. Pirates can attack ships travelling slowly (12-16 knots). Guards on board offer little protection. In fact, use of guns and guards can escalate matters.

On 12 May 2010 one of Captain Lampros’ ships was attacked. The crew hid in the engine room but the captain did not make it to the engine room in time. There was no naval ship in the area to come to the crew’s help.

A further question to be asked is are the naval ships actually able to help. Captains do not have authority to engage pirates in combat. According to international law, small boats can only be considered as piracy vessels from the moment they try to place a ladder on the ship’s deck. The UN is doing nothing to empower seafarers afflicted by piracy. The result is fewer ships willing to sail through the Indian Ocean, increasing freight rates.

One also has to consider the psychological effects on  those in captivity. Captain Lampros referred to a letter from a clinical psychologist who had examined the Chief Mate on the ship that was captured by pirates last May. The Chief Mate was non responsive in the interview. He avoided eye contact and did not respond to the questions being asked. After 7 months of captivity he had become withdrawn. He was eating little and lost 40 kilos. According to the psychologist the Chief Mate was demonstrating severe psychological trauma.

Captain Lampros then shared his observations about the crew of his captured ship. The Filipino group was the strongest post capture and release. They were a larger group and stuck together. The Romanian Chief Mate had suffered grievously, even being subject to mock executions. 2 Greeks had fared better and were starting to overcome their problems.

Captain Nellas declared that pirates are criminals and should be punished. There are large financial interests driving piracy. Also, for many of the pirates, if they are caught life in a Western jail is preferable to life in Somalia.

Captains can grant permission for the use of weapons on board with the permission of the flag state. However, if pirates successfully board a ship following the use of weapons there could be a slaughter of crew.

AoS has a crucial role to play in supporting the families of all affected seafarers.

Pirates seek to brainwash captured crews, advising the crews that they, the pirates, are fishermen whose livelihoods have been taken away from them. Therefore, they react by committing acts of piracy to draw attention to their plight.

We are entering a new era of piracy. China is now protesting about the actions of its neighbours in South-Eastern Asia, arguing that not enough is being done to prevent piracy. It should also not be forgotten that piracy places an enormous burden on ship owners like Captain Lampros. They do not want to be held responsible for crew deaths.

Yves Reynaud – ITF

Mr. Reynaud has worked with ITF on the Mediterranean coast for over 17 years. He has visited over 1,500 vessels. Often, the smaller the ship, the bigger the problems. Ship owners will often ignore an ITF representative but place a lawyer in front of them and they suddenly listen.

The majority of passenger ships are now covered by an ITF approved agreement. This makes a difference.

The best protection for the seafarer is to know his job – to be skilled.

Due to global economic crisis ITF is dealing with more cases of abandoned crews.

ITF works closely with ship owners because if there are no ship owners there will be no employment for seafarers. In 1994 approximately 1,000 vessels worldwide were covered by an ITF agreement. This figure has now risen to 11,000 in 2011.

The next major event on the horizon is the implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention. Mr. Reynaud predicted that the MLC will be implemented within a minimum of 2 years from now. As an ITF inspector Yves believes that the MLC will help seafarers as port state control will have to look carefully at seafarers’ terms and conditions are ensure seafarers are properly compensated. Port state control are moving beyond looking at the condition of the vessel to looking at the condition of the seafarer.

Yves reported that not all passenger ships are covered by an ITC agreement so it can be difficult to get access to these ships. If an ITF inspector is persistent, in many cases he will eventually be granted permission but contact with the crew might be limited.

Cruise chaplaincy – Ricardo Rodriguez-Martos, Barcelona

Barcelona is Europe’s leading cruise port with 7 international passenger terminals. More than 800 cruise ships visit Barcelona each year.

Cruise ships are different from other ships. Crew size is 500 – 1,500, sometimes more. There are few opportunities for the crew to go ashore. AoS Spain has a cruise office in the cruise terminal and chaplains sail with cruise ships. Each year AoS Spain organises the Mediterranean and Black Sea Football Cup for cruise ships. This involves 20 games per year. Games are played in Yalta and Barcelona and the tournament is enormously popular with seafarers.

AoS Spain has a cruise chaplaincy programme with 3 Spanish companies – Pullmantur, Quail Cruises and Iberocruceros. There are 31 cruise chaplains sailing for one, possibly two, weeks at a time.

Regarding training and reporting, all candidates have a first meeting with AoS in the Stella Maris centre in Barcelona. Once approved, each cruise priest receives a handbook and guideline. There is a training day once per year. After every cruise the priest sends a report to Stella Maris Barcelona.

Priests report that it can be difficult to organise Mass for the crew as they are so busy.

Fr. Giacomo Martino National Director for Italy– Cruise chaplaincy AoS Italy.

Cruise chaplains have been serving with AoS Italy since 1937. The priests are the to serve the crew and passengers. Costa cruises have chaplains on board all their 15 cruise ships, 365 days per year.

Since 2002 the cruise chaplain is:

  • A crew member
  • The crew welfare officer
  • The ‘man of God’ for everyone on board.
  • The chaplain on board.

The chaplain is a crew member and wears the crew uniform. He chairs the on board welfare committee. He celebrates Mass daily for the crew and passengers. He performs a wide variety of tasks for the crew because they are his parishioners and the ship is his parish.

Cruise chaplains report that they are very busy. It can be difficult to find time to sleep! 40% of crew are women and mothers – something important to bear in mind.

Cruise chaplains undergo rigorous training with a 250 page manual to study and individual 1-2-1 training.

IT at the service of AoS ministry - Fr. Sandro Amodeo, Marta Orselli, Elisa Riscazzi (AOS Italy)

IT enables closer, cheaper, easier and more effective communication.

Enhanced IT enables seafarers to communicate more effectively with colleagues, with friends and families and with chaplains and volunteers.

With seafarers spending over 80% of their time on board the ship, use of IT to improve communication is critical.

Fr. Sandro introduced the AoS Italy database which is used to record important data about ship visits and crew. This database can be made available to the wider AoS family. It is important to register the ship’s IMO number on the database as this enables one to find out more about the ships’s history.

AoS Italy also produces news bulletins for seafarers 6 days per week, Monday to Saturday. These contain world, country and local news and sport. Every day, there is a sentence from the Gospel included with the bulletin and on Friday, Sunday’s Gospel is printed. News can be printed, emailed or distributed on memory sticks.

Fr. Sandro also introduced a social network website dedicated to seafarers. Managed by AoS, built for seafarers. Users will include seafarers, their families, centres, chaplains and volunteers. The social network will not just contain information. It will be an interactive resource allowing dialogue and comment about AoS, the maritime sector and other issues. AoS can use the social network to provide seafarers with up to the minute information about our services. Seafarers will be able to provide feedback on the services we provide. The social network will allow offline reading and interaction when Wi-Fi is unavailable.

Summary prepared by Martin Foley AOS GB National Director.



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by Dr. Radut.