Seafaring charities rallied to assist about 3,000 overseas and British cruiseship crew stranded at a UK port this week as the domino effect of the coronavirus pandemic continued.
Seafarers from four cruiseships were laid off at the Essex port of Tilbury when their ships all berthed at once as a result of cruise cancellations. The cruiseships included the Viking Star, the Magellan, the Saga Sapphire and the Spirit of Discovery.
Seafarers who ended up at the cruise terminal due to layoffs were not able to be repatriated immediately as their flights were also cancelled. They were helped by the Tilbury Seafarer Centre run by the Queen Victoria Seamen's Rest (QVSR).
The Tilbury Seafarer Centre opened its coffee shop to provide tea and biscuits to the stranded crew.
Following a request for help from QVSR the Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB) provided a free mobile wifi (MiFi) unit which boosted internet availability. MNWB also supplied a £500 emergency grant in support of seafarers’ welfare.
QVSR chief executive Alex Campbell said: ‘It has been rather chaotic and is a rapidly evolving process.'
The charities used port guidance when providing assistance to the crew. That was currently to 'keep a social distance', so they often only went as far as the gangway, said Mr Campbell.
The charities including the MNWB, Apostleship of the Sea, the Sailors Society, German Seamen’s Mission , the QVSR , port authorities and ships agent had all worked tirelessly together to ensure the crew were looked after, and reassured while being kept separate, he added.
Mr Campell said the extraordinary event highlighted the essential work of seafarers and 'what they are experiencing during these exceptionally challenging times and what’s being done for them on their behalf.
'We are all trying to make the best of a difficult situation. A lot of the seafarer centres have closed to protect their staff, but they all have a 24-hour room and we can use that in the worst case scenarios.'
Most of the foreign crew were now being repatriated and are expected to reach their home countries by the end of the week. It is believed a skeleton crew remain onboard each of the ships.
Crew face an uncertain future following the sudden cancellation of their contracts. Many face quarantine of up to 14 days when returned to their home countries.