Vatican City, Jul 7, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).
In a message for Sea Sunday, a Vatican cardinal appealed to the international community to ensure that those who work at sea are treated with full human dignity.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, said that since September 2020, an estimated 400,000 seafarers have been stranded at sea because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also said that the coronavirus had worsened working and living conditions for thousands who have been forced to work for months longer than usual while separated for long periods from their families.
“We appeal to ship owners, management companies, agents, and recruiters to regard crew members as more than ‘labor force’ and remember that they are human beings,” he said.
“We urge the development of working practices, which are based on human dignity rather than profit,” he added, “and so provide everything, which is necessary to improve the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of seafarers.”
Turkson’s message was given for the annual celebration of Sea Sunday, which falls this year on July 11. The day is an initiative of a Catholic charity that helps seafarers worldwide.
In September 2020, the organization changed its name from the Apostleship of the Sea to Stella Maris, after one of the Latin titles of veneration of the Virgin Mary.
Stella Maris celebrated its 100th anniversary in October 2020.
In his message, Cardinal Turkson said, “we thank the People of the Sea for their work, and our gratitude is transformed in our prayer that the Lord grants them strength in moments of weakness, unity in diversity, safe and smooth sailing and, at the end of their contract, happiness to be reunited with their loved ones.”
He said that there were also other problems connected to COVID-19, including a lack of clear policies on vaccination for seafarers.
“Because of this pandemic, we would like to invite the maritime industry to learn to act as one by facilitating crew changes and vaccinations and strengthening the implementation of international standards to enhance and protect the human and working rights of the People of the Sea,” Turkson said.
The cardinal also pointed out that 38 piracy incidents have been reported since the start of the year. While the number of these incidents had gone down, he said, “violence against crew is increasing.”
“These are sad reminders of the fragility of a maritime industry, which has already been tested by the pandemic,” he commented. “Seafarers have the right to perform their work without running the risk of being kidnapped, injured or even killed.”
“We request all governments and international organizations to determine long-lasting solutions to the scourge of piracy, mindful of the need to address the fundamental problem of the inequality in the distribution of goods between countries and the exploitation of natural resources.”
Turkson also expressed concern about shipwrecks and marine accidents, noting that though sometimes these happen due to the forces of nature, there are still “too many instances of negligence by those who prefer to prioritize profit over safety and security.”
“We lift our prayers to Mary, Star of the Sea, to accompany those who are no longer with us to the safe harbor of heaven and comfort the devastated relatives and friends who are left behind,” he said.
Turkson recalled the efforts made by Stella Maris chaplains and volunteers to be at the service of seafarers and fishers during the pandemic.
“They are present in their lives, constantly adapt their ministry to changing circumstances, and address seafarers‘ spiritual and material needs,” he explained.
“We entrust to Mary, Star of the Sea, the well-being of the People of the Sea, the commitment and dedication of chaplains and volunteers and we entreat Our Lady to continue to protect us all from every danger, especially from COVID-19,” he concluded.