Community: International Day of the Seafarer

Today (June 25) marks the International Day of the Seafarer, a day which Lyttelton Seafarers Centre Chairperson Rev John McLister hopes will shine a light on the vital role these key workers play in keeping our region moving.


On any given day, there can be up to 400 foreign seafarers on vessels visiting Lyttelton Harbour, far away from home, often with limited English and performing challenging and isolating tasks at sea.

This year’s International Day of the Seafarer aims to recognise that seafarers are key workers. They are on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, playing an essential role in maintaining the flow of vital goods, such as food, medicines and medical supplies.

However, the crisis has led to difficult working conditions for seafarers, including uncertainties and difficulties about port access, re-supply, crew changeovers and repatriation.

These are challenges Mr McLister is familiar with. As the Lyttelton Seafarers Centre Chairperson and Chaplain, Mr McLister welcomed more than 4,000 seafarers visits last year and expects this year’s visit numbers to be significantly higher.

Seafarers from all corners of the globe congregate at the Seafarers Centre on Norwich Quay in Lyttelton. The Centre is place of refuge where seafarers are greeted with a warm kiwi welcome and a reprieve from the often harsh conditions of life at sea.

The Seafarers Centre is part of the global Mission to Seafarers, an Anglican welfare charity serving merchant crews around the world.

The Catholic seafarers’ welfare charity Stella Maris also contributes to the running of the Centre.

“We offer seafarers foreign currency exchange, tea and coffee, snacks, internet, mobile SIM cards, and a comfortable space to relax and unwind on shore and make contact with their loved ones at home,” says Mr McLister.

“On average seafarers are spending 9 months of the year at sea, so the Centre is about providing a connection to home, human contact, and ensuring they have a safe space on shore, rather than congregating on street corners.”

Mr McLister and the Centre’s volunteers can also arrange for crews to attend church services – Some seafarers are catholic, while others are Muslim and wish to visit the Al Noor Mosque, which has become a place of pilgrimage since the terror attacks last year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created another set of challenges, with seafarers unable to gain shore leave in some circumstances and unable to be repatriated home.

In March, LPC supported Mr McLister to start chaplaincy visits to vessels, which he says has ensured crews were cared for during COVID-19.

“The vessel visits mean we can deliver WIFI units and groceries to crews who cannot come ashore, we can also let them know about the various welfare services the Centre can provide.”

A key role of the centre is advocacy, says Mr McLister.

“The Seafarers Centre is seen as a non-confrontational organisation that crews can use to talk about issues they may be facing. We can then speak directly to shipping agents or Maritime New Zealand to resolve issues. The Lyttelton centre is a strong advocate for seafarers nationally.”

LPC Strategic Engagement Manager Phil de Joux says Lyttelton Port is proud to support the Seafarers Centre and the important work Mr McLister undertakes.

“LPC provides the Lyttelton Seafarers Centre with financial support, safe transportation to vessels and donated WiFi units to keep crews connected.”

In recent times, LPC has also ensured our Marine Pilots provide vessel masters with information on accessing the centre.

“As the South Island’s largest Port, we have an obligation to ensure everyone who visits and works in our Port are safe and cared for. This is something we will continue to do well into the future.”

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