Glasgow, Scotland, Apr 1, 2020 / 05:33 pm (CNA).- Last year, a maritime charity rescued a group of migrant workers from an abusive situation aboard a fishing vessel in Scotland. The men recently returned home, but the non-profit continues to provide aid in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
A Filipino crew worked upon Serenity, a ship owned by a Scottish fishing company, which hires a large portion of migrant workers from countries like the Philippines. The men were believed to be harassed for their nationality.
Apostleship of the Sea, or Stella Maris, helped remove the five Filipino crew members from the ship, assisted them with a safe house in Glasgow, and provided them with spiritual support. The abused sailors had been in their contracts between two and five months before they were removed from the boat in August 2019.
Skipper Gordon Hadden verbally harassed and discriminated against these members. The skipper admitted to striking one of the men, placing him in a headlock, and pushing him against the railings of the ship. He was fined £2,000 for harassment and an additional £1,000 for the assault.
The men then reached out to Stella Maris and were soon put in contact with Joe O’Donnell, a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Glasgow and a port chaplain for Stella Maris.
Martin Foley, the charity’s chief executive officer and European regional coordinator, told CNA that while the case was investigated by the police the men were visited regularly by O’Donnell for spiritual support.
“Our colleagues at the Fishermen’s Mission advised the men to disembark from the boat for their own safety and from there, the police were called and the guys were moved to a hotel and then transferred to a safe house in Glasgow and that’s when Deacon Joe got involved,” he said.
“Deacon Joe visited the men on a regular basis, praying with them, transporting them to Mass, organising excursions and generally providing as much hospitality as possible.”
The organization also administered financial assistance to the men’s families in the Philippines. Foley said, although the men had been rescued from an abusive situation, they were prohibited from accessing other work while the case was under investigation.
“One of the injustices of their situation was that they were legally barred from working whilst their case was being investigated. Yet the only reason they travelled to the UK in the first place was to work,” he said.
According to the Scottish Catholic Observer, one of the Filipino crewmen, who asked to remain anonymous, described the situation as very difficult but said “it would have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been for the support and assistance from Stella Maris.” He said the organization treated them like family.
“Deacon Joe has been there for each of us every step of the way … He made sure we were alright and has always been in touch to help with our worries,” he said.
“One of the highlights came when he arranged for Bishop John Keenan of Paisley to come and visit us. We would love to return to Scotland one day, and Stella Maris will always have a place in our hearts.”
After eight months in Scotland, the men have recently returned home, but they are now placed under quarantine.
Foley said the charity has a particularly important role to play during the coronavirus outbreak and emphasized difficulties faced by seafarers at this time. He said there have been numerous reports of sailors who have been denied shore leave and been confined to their vessels.
“This is a time of great uncertainty for seafarers, fishermen and their families. With over 90% of world trade being moved by ship, it is the People of the Sea that keep the global economy and supply chains functioning. Seafarers and fishermen should be counted among the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
“In Manila … Stella Maris is providing free accommodation and food for 120 seafarers who are unable to leave Manila due to the lockdown situation there.”
He said the ministry has had to alter its ministerial duties as countries have increased COVID-19 prevention methods. He said, while the chaplains and volunteers have been barred from accessing the ship, the organization has had to provide spiritual support online and had welfare packages delivered to the boats.
“As we move towards Holy Week and the celebration of Easter – a time when we would normally transport seafarers to Mass or celebrate liturgies on board their ships – we consider it particularly important to provide seafarers and fishermen with spiritual support, including signposting to faith resources online,” he said.
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