As Filipino seafarers arrive into ports served by the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI), they hurriedly plug into the grid of communication services only available in major ports. From thousands of miles away, anxious mariners seek word of loved ones at home following the devastating typhoon that shook the island nation earlier this month. Over the last few days while visiting the transoceanic vessels that carry these men and women far from home, SCI chaplains have heard stories of great loss, apprehension and sadness, but they have also witnessed incredible tenacity and resilience.
SCI chaplain intern Ryan Bruns relates one such story from a conversation while transporting a Filipino seafarer from the shopping mall in New Jersey back to his vessel in port. Ryan noticed the seafarer had not purchased anything. The seafarer explained, “I didn’t spend any money. This is the start of our new house fund.” He, along with several other seafarers SCI chaplains met, shared plans to stay on board and finish the remainder of his contract.
Not all seafarers wanted to remain at sea after hearing the news from home. Ryan and fellow intern Michele McWilliams met a Chief Cook whose house was destroyed. The cook explained that he had put in a request to leave ship early (before his contract was finished), which the ship’s agent approved. Anxious to get home to his family, he wanted to make sure they were really okay and to begin rebuilding their life together.
On the West Coast, Director of the International Maritime Center, Adrienne Yee, tells of seafarers using the Center’s computers and Wi-Fi to search for news from home—especially those unable to contact their loved ones directly. Crewmembers cheered when a fellow Filipino seafarer finally spotted a photo on Facebook that assured him of his family’s safety.
One of the most inspiring stories came from Port Newark Chaplain James Kollin, who met a seafarer named Edito. The typhoon destroyed his house in Cebu (a house for which he had spent ten years saving) and forced his wife and two-year-old son to evacuate to a relative’s home nearby. Five days after the storm hit, Edito finally reached his wife by phone. He told Chaplain James that he sent money to begin rebuilding his own home as well as a donation to help other affected families. Edito expressed thanks for his job as a seafarer—a job that enables him to sustain his family in their needs, to help his neighbors and to someday build another house.