Taking care of seafarers' welfare

The Maritime House in Tanjong Pagar has serviced apartments for seafarers to stay in, regardless of whether they are here for work or play. Left: Electrician Zhao Yuting (far left), 52, and Captain Chen Guang Ming, 47, surfing the Internet on their c
Electrician Zhao Yuting (far left), 52, and Captain Chen Guang Ming, 47, surfing the Internet on their cellphones at Jurong Port's drop-in centre. Motorman Zhang Guang Li, 44, is at the billiards table.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI
The Maritime House in Tanjong Pagar has serviced apartments for seafarers to stay in, regardless of whether they are here for work or play. Left: Electrician Zhao Yuting (far left), 52, and Captain Chen Guang Ming, 47, surfing the Internet on their c
The Maritime House in Tanjong Pagar has serviced apartments for seafarers to stay in, regardless of whether they are here for work or play. ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI

Ports here offer services and facilities for them when their vessels drop anchor

At any one time, there are 1,000 vessels passing through Singapore's ports.

On board is a community of seafarers who play a critical role in delivering everything from clothing to food to construction materials.

Yet, due to the high security at ports and the vessels' fast turnaround, their presence goes largely unnoticed by most Singaporeans.

To commemorate the Day of the Seafarer, which is today, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) took The Sunday Times on a tour of the facilities and services available to these transient workers.

Seafarers - anyone who travels by sea, be it a cook, deckhand or captain - may stay here for as little as a few hours or up to two weeks. There is no official data on how many of them pass through the ports here. When a ship calls at a port, Reverend Peter Manimuthu, 56, and his team of seven from non-profit organisation The Mission To Seafarers are often the first point of contact for the crew.

A port chaplain, Rev Peter goes on board 15 to 20 ships a day to ask the sailors: "How are you?"

LONELY VOCATION

Seafarers are out at sea for long periods. The loneliness and isolation cut both ways - for them and for their families... We want to offer a basic level of connection.

PORT CHAPLAIN PETER MANIMUTHU

His role is to befriend the seafarers, lend an ear if they have any problems, and then direct them to the relevant help.

A common issue faced by seafarers is the non-payment of wages, although there have been sailors who shared about their marital problems, he said.

"Seafarers are out at sea for long periods. The loneliness and isolation cut both ways - for them and for their families," he added.

"We want to offer a basic level of connection. We try to be a friend to the seafarer first, and from there see what happens. If there's a need, we see what we can do."

Seafarers who have time to go ashore can visit the ports' drop-in centres, or a type of transit lounge, run by seafarers' missions. There are five such missions in Singapore dedicated to the welfare of seafarers, and their work is supported by the MPA through an annual grant.

These centres are air-conditioned, provide free Wi-Fi, refreshments and entertainment in the form of books, regional newspapers, billiard tables and dart boards.

All three centres at the Jurong, Pasir Panjang and Keppel ports are within port security areas, so even seafarers who are unable to leave the ports due to immigration controls can access the services.

Mr Sun Da Yong, 42, aseaman from China, sought shelter from the heat at the Jurong centre earlier this month, where he played billiards and made use of the free Wi-Fi to text his family. The centre sees 400 to 500 seafarers a month on average.

"Singapore is so hot, it's more comfortable to be here than on the ship," said Mr Sun, who had spent a week at sea before getting a two-day break here.

Seafarers can also stay in serviced apartments at the Maritime House in Tanjong Pagar, regardless of whether they are here for work or play. The 46 apartments are open for booking only to those with valid seafarer identification. Each apartment has a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom and yard. Rates start from $101 a night.

Captain Nitin Chopra, 35, who stayed at the Maritime House for three days this month, was impressed by its facilities. It was the Indian national's first visit here.

"I've been sailing in Europe and Russia, and the seamen clubs there do not have accommodation. Here, the Wi-Fi at the lounge is very good and the rooms are huge.

"I got a good rest."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 25, 2017, with the headline 'Taking care of seafarers' welfare'. Print Edition | Subscribe