News and Media
Mission to Seafarers Singapore – Home away from home for seafarers
By Shwe Yamin Aye, Communications and Media Specialist
Tom Bonehill, Managing Director of Norstar Shipping (Asia) Pte Ltd visited the Mission to Seafarers international drop-in centre located at Jurong Port in Singapore. He received a warm welcome from the Port Chaplain, Soon Kok and his wife, Susan, who gave him a tour around the centre.
As one of the busiest ports in the world, Singapore handled a total of 626.2 million tonnes of cargo in 2019. The port of Singapore is frequently patronized by seafarers from all corners of the world as their ships carry out port operations here. Seafarers are the frontline workers of the maritime industry, carrying 90% of the global trade. Despite playing a fundamental role in the economy, Seafarers are considered by many to be under-appreciated essential workers. Over the years, several associations have stepped up to take care of the Seafarers’ welfare.
In pre-Covid times, the drop-in centre in Jurong Port would come alive with seafarers who manage to get ashore for a few hours. The centre provides a pool table, a TV, and an elliptical machine for recreational purposes. Complimentary books, CDs, and clothes are also available for the seafarers. “The most sought-after amenity is Wi-fi,” Soon Kok mentioned, “which many of them would use to contact their families, download some movies or songs onto their gadgets so they can watch or listen to them on board.” Soon Kok also recalled,” I remember an encounter with one Vietnamese seafarer. His face lit up upon watching a video of his young boy running around probably recorded and sent by his wife.”
Another popular amenity is the massage chair – a donated piece. Additionally, the centre also offers complimentary transportation service to the nearby malls allowing the seafarers to do the necessary shopping. During the festive seasons, the centre would organize events like Christmas and Chinese New Year gatherings with the help of its donors.
Unfortunately, Soon Kok’s hands are tied because of the pandemic preventing the centre from operating as usual. “Sadly, we also had to let go some of our contract staff due to the financial constraint,” Soon Kok said. However, he still does ship visiting when called upon and works closely with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) to use the drop-in centre as needed. “Recently, we opened the centre to hold a few on-signers because their vessel experienced a delay.”
Like many other non-profitable organizations, one of the challenges Mission to Seafarers Singapore face is funding. “Currently, we have a few organisations who have been generously supporting our cause. But we hope to form partnerships on a slightly longer-term. Maybe 3-5 years so we can sustain this project.”
Besides funding, the centre also experiences a shortage of other resources such as launches and manpower to attend to the needs at sea. “Right now, we only have me and one other ship visitor doing the ship visiting,” Soon Kok said. “It’s hard to recruit volunteers because there are some risks involved in visiting a ship,” Susan commented.
Despite the challenges faced, Soon Kok and Susan are determined to provide the needed support for all the seafarers visiting Singapore from around the world. “Our objective is to care for all seafarers regardless of race and religion and purely out of care and concern.”
Tom Bonehill thanked Soon Kok and Susan for their time to show him around the centre and said “We greatly appreciate the essential work being carried out by the Mission to Seafarers in Singapore and how a listening ear from a caring person can make such a huge difference to our seafarers.”
The Mission to Seafarers– a leading global authority on seafarers’ welfare – is one such organization with 2 drop-in centres in the City State, one in Jurong and one in Pasir Panjang. It strives to provide practical, emotional, and spiritual support in Singapore to all passing seafarers and their families. To find out more about Mission to Seafarers Singapore and their works, please visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/The-Mission-to-Seafarers-Singapore-1418670264850073/
The Mission to Seafarers International Drop-In Centre
Inside the Drop-In Centre
Soon Kok (right) explaining to Tom (left) about the beginning of the Mission to Seafarers Singapore
Tom Bonehill (left), Soon Kok (middle), Susan Koh (right)