Pope Francis has expressed concern for stranded seafarers affected by the crew change crisis and called on governments to do all they can to repatriate them.
In his weekly Sunday address from the Vatican on 20 December 2020, the Pontiff said: 'The coronavirus pandemic has caused particular distress to seafarers. Many of them – an estimated 400,000 worldwide – are stuck on the ships beyond the terms of their contracts and are unable to return home.
'I ask the Virgin Mary, Stella Maris, to comfort these people and all those who live in difficult situations, and I urge governments to do everything possible so that they can return to their loved ones.'
In June, Pope Francis sent a video message of encouragement to seafarers, and in August he asked the faithful to pray for seafarers, fishers, and their families.
The ongoing crew change crisis has been brought about by national border closures, visa restrictions, airline cancellations and other challenges which have prevented seafarers from returning home.
Martin Foley, chief executive of the Catholic maritime welfare charity Stella Maris, said that although some progress had been made, more governments needed to step up and make crew change a priority.
'Seafarers are among the heroes of this pandemic, and we are grateful to Pope Francis for highlighting their plight. Unfortunately, because of the current situation, many who have finished their contracts will not be able to make it home for Christmas to be with their families,' he said.
This has left a psychological toll on many seafarers, Mr Foley added. He said for its part, Stella Maris continues to visit seafarers on ships, when permitted, or meet them at the gangway, with social distancing in place.
- Nautilus is leading a Crew Change for Christmas campaign calling on all governments and the UN to ensure that seafarers are designated as key workers and enable them to pass through borders closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.
- Find out how you can help on our Crew Change for Christmas page