LEICESTER, United Kingdom – The plight of Ukrainian sailors was one of the issues discussed at the 25th World Congress of Stella Maris which took place in Glasgow, Oct. 3-5.

Stella Maris, formerly known as the Apostleship of the Sea, is the Catholic Church’s ministry to seafarers and their families. It was founded in 1920 in Glasgow, and now provides over 1,000 chaplains and volunteers in 330 ports across 60 countries around the world.

As the war sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine drags on, Stella Maris chaplains are working to support the immediate needs of the over 76,000 Ukrainian seafarers and their families serving in the sea industry around the world.

The charity’s Ukraine national director, Father Alexander Smerechynskyy and his colleague Rostyslav Inzhestoikov are leading the efforts to support their compatriots.

Father Bruno Ciceri, the international director of Stella Maris, told the congress more must be done to support Ukrainian seafarers.

“There is now increasing demands for mental health support from Ukrainian seafarers and their families suffering trauma, worry and fear during the ongoing war, so the charity is putting in place a new program of medium to long-term support from professional psychologists in Ukraine,” he said.

“The platform will provide a program of remote, ongoing psychological consultation for those most in need,” the priest continued.

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Martin Foley, the Stella Maris UK CEO and Europe regional coordinator, told Sea Trade Maritime News the project is not something the charity has done before, “but our colleagues in Ukraine inform us that the war has had, and continues to have, a deleterious impact on the mental health of seafarers and families.”

Stella Maris is working with the HFW law firm, which is providing funding for the project.

“The trauma of living in a war zone, with sporadic missile and drone attacks, cannot be overestimated. Many seafarers have also been separated from their families which has added to their anxiety. This project will ensure seafarers and their families can take mental health action at a critical time, and we offer our sincere thanks to HFW on their behalf,” Martin said.

Paul Dean, the Global Head of Shipping and Senior Mental Health Champion at HFW, told Sea Trade Maritime News that seafarers “already have one of the toughest jobs on the planet.”

“A life at sea can mean months away from loved ones, long hours, and some of the roughest weather imaginable. But those in Ukraine have also been living with the terrible realities of war, while bravely continuing the vital role all seafarers play in enabling global trade. We are proud to be helping Stella Maris in providing them with much-needed mental health support,” he said.

Aside from the situation with Ukrainian seafarers, Martin told the World Congress Stella Maris exists to love the people of the sea, its staff, volunteers, and all the people with whom it works.

“We strive to serve the people of the sea, the maritime sector, the Church, and all stakeholders, with integrity. We have great strength in the diversity of our teams globally. Being from the communities we serve, and working and living alongside them, gives us an enhanced understanding of the challenges they face,” he said.

Martin noted the challenges facing seafarers around the world, and said Stella Maris must be more effective in shining the light on injustices and abuses taking place within the maritime and fisheries sectors, including abandonment of seafarers, modern slavery and human trafficking.

“In order to do this, we need more than anecdotes, so we will continue efforts to promote the use of a common Stella Maris database that records our activity on ships, fishing vessels, hospital visitations, and elsewhere,” he said.

“The database, which was set up by Stella Maris UK, and is being currently used in the UK and countries including Kenya, South Africa and in Europe, will be transformative, and help us communicate better internally and with the media, industry regulators and authorities,” he added.

The World Congress marked the centenary of the charity’s foundation and was originally scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic.

In a message marking the occasion, Pope Francis called on Stella Maris to “continue to be of service to those whose lives and livelihoods are connected to our seas” as the world emerges from the pandemic.

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“Creation, our common home, is comprised of a vast expanse of water, which is essential for life and human commerce, not to mention tourism. It should not be surprising, therefore, that around 90 percent of the world’s goods are transported by ships, which is made possible by the daily work of over one and a half million people, many of whom are far removed for months at a time from the support of their families as well as their social and religious communities,” the pope said.

He also called on Stella Maris to “never waver in drawing attention to the issues which deprive many within the maritime community of their God-given human dignity.”

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome