– A Catholic deacon in the United Kingdom has been awarded the British Empire Medal for his work serving seafarers and rescuing trafficking victims over the last eight years.

“I was absolutely stunned… a tear came to my eye – it really did,” Deacon Roger Stone told The Tablet in a recent interview.

“I love the seafarers…it’s not just words, I really do.”

Stone, a permanent deacon, is stationed in Southampton, where he has been a Port Chaplain serving crew members for the past seven years through the Catholic charity Apostleship of the Sea (AoS). Since 2010, Stone has provided pastoral support for crew members along the South Coast of England.

“I am proud to work for the Apostleship of the Sea, the greatest and most effective maritime charity in the world. I am privileged to serve so many wonderful seafarers from so many countries around the world,” Stone said, according to an AoS press release.

In addition to his work providing spiritual ministry to seafarers, Stone has helped rescue several fishermen from inhumane working conditions, including nine fishermen near Portsmouth Harbour and another three Filipino men living on a boat in “slave-like conditions.”

Stone called the rescue of the Filipino men “a landmark thing in my life because they are such nice people being treated so abysmally.”

According to AoS, Stone also supported a group of abandoned fishermen from two ships in Sussex and was instrumental in raising emergency funds for the crew and their families in 2013-2014. Although Stone had no previous maritime experience before 2010, he has now become a beloved face among the seafarers on the South Coast.

The British Empire Medal is an honor awarded to individuals for civil or military service worthy to be recognized by the Crown. The honor was established in 1922 to replace the Medal of the Order of the British Empire and recognizes the work of those who have made “a significant difference” on a local level.

“I will always regard the Medal as a symbol of the love I have for seafarers who rely on Apostleship of the Sea port chaplains and volunteers for pure pastoral care. Without Apostleship of the Sea, seafarers would simply not receive the love and care they need,” Stone said.

Martin Foley, the National Director for the Apostleship of the Sea, said that the medal could not have been awarded to a more deserving nominee.

“The British Empire Medal is a fitting recognition of Roger’s work and ministry with seafarers, and testimony to the vital support and assistance that AoS provides to seafarers and the wider shipping and maritime community.”