Help to Abandoned Seafarers

May 2, 2011

by the Rev. Joyce Parry Moore, Bay Area Senior Chaplain & Development Officer

When Mass ended aboard the Blue Jade, the circle of 18 Filipino seafarers and one woman priest stood quietly for several moments. Some eyes filled with tears; others looked wistfully into the distance. Then one voice spoke up.

“Mother Joyce, could you transfer some money for us?” He handed me a detailed list of 18 names and bank account numbers, and an envelope full of little packets of cash, each inscribed with the name of a seafarer and their rank aboard the vessel.

Back at the International Maritime Center, I carefully unwrapped each packet – Elmer, oiler; Glenn, third officer; Engleberth, messman – and entered the information into the computer. Each amount was different, and each conveyed an essential purpose – money for their daughter’s tuition; for their mother’s medicine; for their family’s food. These were the concerns of the 21 seafarers anchored aboard this vessel for over two months, awaiting a court decision on payment of liens against the bankrupt shipping company.

SCI-Bay Area had received a call a few days earlier from the Coast Guard in Hawaii alerting us to three ships, owned by an insolvent shipping company, under arrest in US waters, including one anchored off San Francisco. I consulted with the Center for Seafarers’ Rights Director, Douglas B. Stevenson, who advised me on the crewmembers’ rights in such circumstances and recommended that I visit the crew to ascertain their situation and needs. He also recommended that I contact the West Coast Representative of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), Jeff Engels, to determine if the ITF was working on the case and to coordinate our response with them. Having done this, I searched for a launch that could take me aboard the vessel to check on the crew. Finally the ship’s agent, General Steam, arranged for me to visit with a load of provisions. From Pier 50, San Francisco, Westar Marine Services delivered fruits, vegetables, and a chaplain.

Since that first visit, Blue Jade crew members have continued to communicate with me by email, asking for help when their court date was delayed and their time stranded at anchor dragged on. After conversations with Douglas, the vessel’s management, though under arrest, agreed to pay for a brief shore leave for some crewmembers and for another launch to carry me aboard the following week.

Upon my arrival, I found the mess hall arranged for Mass and a special lunch prepared. We sang and celebrated Easter. On that day, communications indicated that the vessel might soon pull into dock in San Francisco, that some wages would be paid, and that some crew would be sent home. It remains to be seen, however, whether that will in fact occur, and moreover whether back wages owed to the ship’s crew will also be paid.

As I stepped onto the tugboat and we pulled away, I kept my eyes focused on the deck, on the small figures in orange suits waving and smiling hopefully. They looked so vulnerable there, floating in the middle of the bay. I reminded myself, as I reminded them, that they are not alone. They are joined by SCI, the ITF, and by all of our supporters around the country and the world. They each have a story, known and beloved by God. The outcome of their story is not yet known, but from now on it will be connected to me, to SCI, and to all of us.