The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples today published its message for Sea Sunday (12 July), signed by Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio and Bishop Joseph Kalathiparambil, respectively president and secretary of the dicastery. The following is the full text of the message:
“To transport goods and products around the world, the global economy deeply relies on the maritime industry supported by a workforce of around 1.2 million seafarers, who at sea and in the oceans frequently facing the strong and powerful forces of nature, manage ships of all kinds and dimensions.
As ports are built far away from the cities, and because of the fast turnaround in loading and unloading cargo, the crews sailing the ships are like ‘invisible’ people. As individuals we do not acknowledge the importance and the benefits that the maritime profession brings to our life and we become aware of their work and sacrifices only when disasters strike.
In spite of the technological development that makes life on board more comfortable and makes it easier to communicate with loved ones, seafarers are forced to spend long months in a restricted space, away from their families. Restrictive and unjust regulations often limit shore leave when in port and the continuous threat of piracy in many sea routes adds stress while sailing. We are still confident that the ratification and coming into force of the Maritime Labor Convention 2006 by a growing number of countries, accompanied by effective inspections by flag States will result in a tangible improvement of the labor and working conditions on board all ships.
In the present day, with war, violence and political instability in several countries, a new phenomenon has been affecting the shipping industry. Since last year, alongside the coast guards and the naval forces of Italy, Malta and European Union, the merchant vessels transiting in the Mediterranean Sea have been actively involved in the by-now daily task of rescuing thousands and thousands of migrants trying to reach the coasts of Italy in all kinds of overcrowded and substandard crafts.
Since time immemorial seafarers have fulfilled the obligation to rescue people in distress at sea under any conditions. However, as it has been stressed by other maritime organizations, for the merchant vessels rescuing migrants at sea remains a health, safety and security risk for seafarers. Commercial ships are designed to transport goods (containers, oil, gas, etc.) and all the facilities are custom-made for the limited number of crew members on board. For these reasons merchant vessels are not equipped to provide assistance to a large number of migrants.
Seafarers are professionally qualified in their work and trained to handle a number of emergency situations but rescuing hundreds of often frantic men, women and children is something that no training course in maritime school has prepared them for. Furthermore, the physical effort in seeking to rescue as many persons as possible, and witnessing numerous lifeless bodies in the sea, render the experience traumatic and leave the crews exhausted and psychologically distressed, in need of specific psychological and spiritual support.
On Sea Sunday as the Catholic Church we would like to express our appreciation for seafarers in general for their fundamental contribution to the international trade. This year in particular, we would like to recognize the great humanitarian effort made by the crews of merchant vessels that without hesitation, sometimes risking their own life, have engaged in many rescue operations saving thousands of migrants lives.
Our gratitude goes also to all the chaplains and volunteers of the Apostleship of the Sea for their daily commitment in serving the people of the sea; their presence in the docks is the sign of the Church in their midst and shows the compassionate and merciful face of Christ.
In conclusion, while we appeal to the governments in Europe, the countries of origin of migration flows, and international organizations to cooperate in searching for a durable and definitive political solution to instability in those countries, we would also like to call for more resources to be committed not only for search and rescue missions but also to prevent the trafficking and exploitation of persons escaping from conditions of conflict and poverty”.