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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 99, December 2005




(September 22nd, 2005)


“World Maritime Day” will be celebrated this year on the 29th September. With us is Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, of which the Apostleship of the Sea is part. We would, then, like to ask him: 

1) Why this Day?

A. Every year, the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) encourages maritime nations and communities to celebrate – usually during the month of September – a Day dedicated to considering problems and achievements in the maritime sector. In this way, the aim is to help meet various requisites and focus attention on, for example, the importance of maritime transport and safety at sea, on respect for the environment and on the seafarers themselves. The theme chosen this year – “International Shipping – Carrier of World Trade” – seeks to publicise the important contribution made by the maritime sector and by the fishing industry to international trade and the world economy. 

2) How important is this contribution?

A. Today, more than 90% of international trade still takes place by sea. In fact, this activity involves more than 90,000 vessels (of varying tonnage) and 1,250,000 seafarers. In the con-text of globalisation, this industry must perhaps be considered as the most globalised and international of them all. In an ever more liberal and profit-based economic environment, the industry is being forced to economise at all levels, including that of personnel. Making the industry work calls for great professional commitment, courage and sacrifice by seafarers; yet they feel that their contribution to the world economy is not sufficiently recognised, nor adequately compensated. World Maritime Day aims to correct this short-coming by recognising the great contribution seafarers make to our well-being and, in some way, to thank them. 

3) What hopes are there for a better future?

A.One hopeful signal is the fact that, for some years now, the maritime industry – encouraged by international agencies (OMI, ILO, etc.) and by ecclesial Associations (I am thinking of the Apostleship of the Sea and of the ecumenical ICMA) – has become increasingly aware that, in order to safeguard human rights and to create better working conditions, all legislation and decisions must consider the human element as a priority. On this subject we have also, unfortunately, noted an increase in cases where seafarers are criminalised following accidents at sea. While upholding full respect for the laws of individual countries, we ask that seafarers be treated in a fair and humane way.

Finally, we support the ILO initiative to consolidate 60 existant maritime conventions, bringing them together into a single juridical instrument. This project will be discussed once more during the ILO international conference in Geneva in 2006, and this time we hope for positive results. 

4) And what is the Church's contribution?

A. Through its international network, the Apostleship of the Sea, an "ad hoc" Association, is present in practically all the major ports of the world, with a chaplain, or a welcome centre, or lay volunteers. Commitment to pastoral care is put into effect above all at grassroots level and consists of personal contacts and services, the celebration and administration of the Sacraments, shipboard visits, a presence in the ports, on oil rigs, etc. And I would like to recall that this sector also concerns itself with fishermen, passengers and crew of cruise ships, and with coastal cabotage.

Because of the deep link between evangelisation and human promotion, we also seek to exercise an influence, through the work of the pontifical Representatives, on United Nations agencies and, in collaboration with other Christian organisations, on international legislation in order to promote the cause of the weakest and most defenceless. The seafarers are part of them.