The hard work and dangers that mark the lives of most seafarers demand people’s attention, said the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers.
Not only must their human and labour rights be protected, they also need spiritual care, the council said, urging the world’s bishops “to establish and support the maritime apostolate as ‘a visible sign of your affectionate attention to those who cannot receive ordinary pastoral care.'”
The council’s invitation came in its written message for Sea Sunday, celebrated on July 10 this year. The message, signed by Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, council president, was released in four languages by the Vatican on July 4.
“Seated comfortably on the sofa in our living room, we find it difficult to understand how much our daily life is depending on the maritime industry and the sea,” the message said, noting that almost 90 per cent of all cargo is transported by sea.
Nearly 1.2 million seafarers, many from developing nations, work onboard 50,000 merchant ships carrying food, clothing, furniture, appliances, petroleum and many other products, it said. Thousands of men and women also work on cruise ships helping make sure passengers enjoy a comfortable vacation, it added.
In addition to their own duties, crews on merchant vessels have often been the first to intervene and rescue “thousands of people trying to sail to Europe on board of overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels, inflatable rafts,” it said.
Seafarers risk their lives on the open seas because of “the hazards of the forces of nature, piracy and armed robbery” and they risk psychological harm when they are denied regular shore leave or must be away from their families for months, even several years, at a time.
“The human and working dignity of the seafarers is at risk when they are exploited with long working hours and their wages are delayed for months or in cases of abandonment not paid at all,” the message said. It also raised concern over recent measures that treat seafarers as criminals in cases of maritime accidents, including marine pollution.
The Apostleship of the Sea stands “at the side of seafarers to reiterate that their human and labour rights must be respected and protected,” the message said.
It also called on governments and maritime authorities to strengthen the implementation of the International Labour Organisation’s Maritime Labour Convention from 2006 that seeks to ensure seafarers “have access to shore-based facilities and services to secure their health and well-being.”
“We would like to remind to all Christian communities and to each individual how important and essential are the seafarer profession and the shipping industry for our daily life,” it said.