My name is Zachary Jeffers, I’m 24 years old, I’m from Clemson, South Carolina, and I work with the Mission to Seafarers in Hong Kong. The Mission to Seafarers is an Anglican, worldwide organization that provides resources and welfare to those who make their living at sea, working on ships in the different areas of the shipping industry. Hong Kong is one of the largest ports in the world, seeing ships, cargo, and seafarers from all over the world. I serve as a Chaplain’s Assistant, working under The Reverend Canon Stephen Miller, the Senior Chaplain, and Justin Davis, the Assistant Chaplain. Stephen has worked with the mission for about 15 years, in Rotterdam, Dubai, and now Hong Kong, and also currently serves as the Regional Director of Southeast Asia for the Mission to Seafarers. Justin is a former YASC member who is now employed by the mission here in Hong Kong. My daily responsibilities include visiting ships in the morning, and in the afternoon, doing various other tasks in the mission, which currently involves inputting data from surveys the mission sends to ships which inquire about living conditions on board. Fairly often there will be a seafarer or two in the hospital, so we also visit them to make sure they are well taken care of and in contact with family members.
The mission has two buildings, both called “The Mariner’s Club,” in Hong Kong. One is located in the neighborhood, Tsim Sha Tsui, which is just a few minutes’ walk from the harbor and is a hotel and includes a restaurant, pool, bar, and other meeting rooms. It also houses the main offices of the Mission to Seafarers, The Danish Church of Hong Kong and China, and The Apostleship of the Sea, which is the Catholic seaman’s mission. The three organizations work together but all do about the same thing, just in different contexts. Typically, only seafarers are allowed to stay at the Mariner’s Club and do so when they are coming or going from a new ship or if they’re on vacation with their families.
The other Mariner’s Club is located in the area called Kwai Chung, where one of the main shipping terminals is located. This is the facility where ships go to dock to be loaded and unloaded of their cargo. This building has a restaurant, resting room, and meeting area. It also has free Wi-Fi and changes money for seafarers who are in port. This essentially serves as a place for seafarers to rest and recharge when their ship is in port. Either they stop by before heading into other areas of Hong Kong, or their ship is not in port long enough for them to head into the city so they stay and relax in a setting that’s different from their ship.
A Day in the Life of a Chaplain’s Assistant
My day usually starts around 7:00 am, (6:00 am if I decide to go running) when I wake up. I eat breakfast at the restaurant in the Mariner’s Club, found on the second floor. After breakfast I head to Stephen’s office to pick up the list of ships we’ll be visiting in the anchorages that day. If Stephen is out of town, which happens quite often due to his responsibilities as the Mission’s Regional Director, I make the list myself. The “anchorages” are areas slightly off the coast where smaller cargo and container ships drop anchor to be loaded or unloaded by barges. The facility where ships go to dock, the terminal, is usually very busy, and it is very expensive for a ship to dock in port. If it is possible for a ship to be loaded and unload in the anchorage then they do so to save time and money. There are various other ships found out in the anchorage as well, including tankers, cement ships, bulk cargo ships, etc. because they must be loaded or unloaded by different means.
I visit the ships out in the anchorage every day. The mission has a boat, also called a “launch,” that takes me, and sometimes other volunteers, out to the anchorage to visit ships. The boat has a captain and a chief engineer. Ben is the captain and helps coordinate the daily visits. He has been working with the Mission to Seafarers for the last 22 years, and before that he served in the Royal Navy. Mr. Lai is the chief engineer and usually drives the boat. Both are from Hong Kong and have been working with ships or boats their whole lives. Ben and I meet up with Mr. Lai and the boat at the Star Ferry Pier, which is about a five minutes’ walk from the Mariner’s Club. Usually Ben stops and picks up Filipino, Korean, and Chinese newspapers from a local newsstand to give to the crews we visit. We print out a Burmese newspaper to give to the crew members that are from Myanmar. We also have other magazines and newspapers, some of which are written specifically for seafarers. Along with printed media, we bring DVDs of the most recent soccer matches. We also sell SIM cards to the seafarers, so they can access the internet and stay in touch with loved ones. Cell phones are usually the seafarers’ only line of communication, not just to friends and family, but also to the outside world. It’s very rare to find a ship that has Internet access onboard that is available to everyone.
We usually visit about anywhere from 5-10 ships a day, depending on how many ships are in the anchorage that day, and if we have other volunteers with us. Generally, most seafarers know at least some English. When we encounter a ship where the crew knows little to no English, we will just drop off the newspapers and DVDs, say thank you, have a safe journey, and move on to the next ship. If we can communicate enough to where the seafarers know that we would like to come aboard, we generally go up and try our best to manage with the little English they may speak. Usually it isn’t much of a problem. After we’ve gone through our list of ships for the day, and we’ve made our way around the anchorages, we head back to the Mariner’s Club. The launch also provides a free taxi service to seafarers that are trying to go ashore, so if there are seafarers that are in the anchorage long enough that would like to go ashore, they give us a call in the morning and we pick them up on our way back to shore, which is usually between 12:30-2:00, depending on the number of ships that we’re able to visit in the anchorage that day. They either get dropped off with me, on the Kowloon (mainland) side of Victoria Harbor, or they get dropped off on the Central (island) side.
After ship visiting I head back to the Mariner’s Club and eat lunch at the restaurant there. I’m very fortunate in the sense that I can take all my meals at the Mariner’s Club free of charge. I try not to eat lunch there every day, because I have found that the set menu they provide for lunch rotates after about a week or two. After lunch and a quick shower to wash all the sweat, grease, and, on the rare occasion, bits of coal off (there was a time when a bulk cargo ship was unloading its coal and I got a bit of a quick coal shower on my way off the ship), I head down to the Mission to Seafarers office, where I begin my current task for the afternoon, which is the inputting of data from surveys the Mission gives out to ships. Each shipping management company in Hong Kong is evaluated by the mission on the quality of life of the seafarer onboard the ship via a survey we send out. The survey has eight questions and a section for comments. I sit and input the answers into spreadsheets for the rest of the afternoon. In November we have our fundraising gala, where the shipping management companies that score the highest will win awards, and every company will get feedback on areas they need to improve. This provides a a small incentive for companies to focus on and improve the quality of life for the seafarer on their ships.
On the occasion that there’s a seafarer in the hospital, the receptionist at the hospital will call our office to inform us, so we know to visit them and check on how they are doing. We try to help them in any way possible and to make them feel more comfortable, whether it may be bringing them a newspaper or an essential item they forgot on their ship or just sitting with them to talk, because a hospital can get rather lonely when you don’t have any visitors.
My time here already has been a fantastic journey, and I don’t doubt it will only get more interesting and exciting. I have seen so much, but I know it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I appreciate everyone’s interest in reading this blog and a very special thanks to everyone who’s helped me get where I am today. Be ready for more blog posts. I’ve been in Hong Kong for about two months now, so I have plenty of material to post about.
Peace & Love