Christmas gifts to seafarers in Immingham

Steve Willows, Stella Maris regional port chaplain in Immingham and Grimsby, says he starts handing out Christmas gifts

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Steve Willows, Stella Maris regional port chaplain in Immingham and Grimsby, says he starts handing out Christmas gifts to seafarers from the beginning of December.

“This is usually to bigger bulk vessels that may have a long voyage ahead and so Immingham would be their final port of call before Christmas. If there is any shopping that crew members might want to have done, so that they can celebrate Christmas properly on board, then we will bring it to the ship for them.

When we are doing our Christmas shopping, we might not be aware that an estimated 90 percent of all the food and other goods imported into the UK arrive by ship. This includes fridges, computers, cars, oranges, and coffee, to name just a few items. If it wasn’t for the seafarers who work on these ships, then many of the shelves in our shops would be empty.

The majority of seafarers are from countries in the developing world, such as the Philippines and India, and join a ship to earn enough money to support their family back home. Many seafarers are Catholic.

For many seafarers, Christmas won’t be a time when they are at home with their families. It will often mean being in the middle of an ocean or in a foreign port, thousands of miles away from home.

Stella Maris provides mobile phone SIM cards so seafarers can contact their families, and, free of charge, WIFI units that its port chaplains leave on board for the duration of a ship’s stay in port.

“At this time of year, it is very tough for seafarers, as they usually just want to be at home with their loved ones,” says Steve. “At best, they will hopefully have an internet connection so they can see them at Christmas. We meet seafarers who haven’t been at home over Christmas for three, four or even five years. When they hear that they will be going home for Christmas, they get very excited.”

Parishes and schools in Nottingham diocese always provide great support for seafarers at Christmas through donating items, he adds. “We give seafarers shoe boxes or gift bags, containing items such as knitted hats, gloves, toiletries, socks, and chocolates. One year, I saw a seafarer get really excited over a pen which seems a strange thing to say but he said that he kept losing pens, so even a pen can make a difference to someone.”

When seafarers arrive in a port and have the opportunity to go ashore, the first thing most want to do is contact their families back home, says Anne McLaren, Stella Maris senior area port chaplain for the North of England. “Often they’ve had no contact for months. It’s generally the seafarers with young families that really struggle the most.”

At a time when those of us on land can access anything and contact anyone in the world at the touch of a button from a device in our pocket, many ships still only provide basic communication services for seafarers.

The seafarers’ centre in Hull port will be open throughout the Christmas period. Seafarers access it through a key code, which is given to them by Anne and her team of ship visitors when they go on board a vessel.

Inside the centre, seafarers have free WiFi and tea, coffee and biscuits, along with clothing donated by Stella Maris supporters and local Catholic parishes. The centre also has a TV, comfortable sofas, and information about amenities in the city of Hull and the surrounding area.

It is somewhere seafarers can come to relax and enjoy time away from the ship and escape the constant noise onboard. And, most importantly, it is a place where they can contact their families back home

“We all look forward at the end of the day to going home,” suggests Anne. “Most seafarers have to wait many months before they can do that, but what we strive to do is provide a home away from home for them. We give them a warm welcome and we do all we can to assist them until they have the joy of returning to their own families.”

Through small gestures, Stella Maris port chaplains and volunteer ship visitors around the UK will make Christmas special for seafarers. And they understand just how important these small gestures are.

If you would like to find out more about helping a seafarer this Christmas, the work of Stella Maris and opportunities to volunteer or donate to support it, go to Let us also pray for seafarers and fishers and their families at this special time of the year.

Could you work for Stella Maris in Immingham? Click here to view the advert for Regional Port Chaplain (deadline January 15th 2024)

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