A life on the ocean waves can be a challenging one. Alexander Preston from the Mission to Seafarers reflects on how even in the landlocked Diocese of Oxford, Christians are working to support those who work at sea. 

Over recent years, mental health has been allowed to come to the forefront of public discussion – not because it’s a new phenomenon, but because the stigma is slowly fading away. The issues surrounding mental health have been widely spoken about; partly thanks to a number of campaigns, such as the Heads Together initiative which was set up by their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex.

By addressing mental health, we must not forget those who suffer work-related problems, such as seafarers. As an island nation, The UK relies heavily on seafarers for the transportation of goods in and out of the country. However, life on the high seas can be less rosy than you may think. A major concern for the maritime industry is the rising number of suicides amongst seafarers – with the global rate reported to have tripled since 2014.

The network of support to help address mental health among seafarers is growing, and The Mission to Seafarers (MtS) – a prominent maritime mission agency with links across the Anglican Communion – is using its global network of chaplains, staff and volunteers to offer the support and assistance seafarers need during distressing periods.

MtS’ Oxford-based Secretary-General, the Revd Andrew Wright, who oversees the work in all its eight regions, said: “Mental health is a global concern and fantastic steps are being taken to raise awareness and support those who need help. MtS’ close relationship with seafarers means that this group – totalling 1.5 million globally – is not left behind. All our chaplains are trained in post-trauma response and mental health awareness to enable them to deal with extreme crises.

“Initiatives like the recent Sea Sunday shine a light on the work of seafarers and the importance of the support network around them. Churches and communities within the Diocese of Oxford have continued to support the work we do and offer generous donations. Inland support for seafarers is truly humbling.”

Read an interview Andrew gave to the Door in 2017 here. 

MtS has a global presence in over 200 ports, providing help and support to seafarers through its chaplains and at its 150 seafarer centres. The support and help seafarers receive ranges from legal and social resources to financial and religious guidance.

The charity runs a number of campaigns to raise awareness and support, including Sea Sunday – which it runs along with other maritime charities. Sea Sunday is a global gathering, celebrated from Manila and Auckland to Oxford and Paris. For inland communities, it’s a chance to raise awareness of the work which goes unseen in the transportation of goods and the development of trade and societies. Within the Diocese of Oxford, a number of churches used Sea Sunday on the 8th July to remember seafarers in their services and celebrate the work they do.

Sea Sunday has always received great support from across the UK; a poignant reminder that here in the UK, over 90 per cent of the things we use on a daily basis – be that food, fuel or medicines – arrive on our shores by sea. The seafarers who help to bring us these essentials and luxuries remain one of the most invisible groups of workers in the world, despite life at sea being one of the most difficult, dangerous and challenging occupations in the world.

Alexander Preston is the communications manager for the Mission to Seafarers.