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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 106 (Suppl.-I), April 2008



On Course together:

Presentation of the

International Christian Maritime Association 


Dr. Jurgen R A Kanz

ICMA General Secretary



It certainly is a great honour and privilege to address this august assembly. I, therefore, thank Archbishop Marchetto for his most kind invitation which I interpret as an expression of the straight forward cooperation between the Apostleship of the Sea and the International Christian Maritime Association, abbreviated ICMA.

My personal experience with the pastoral endeavour towards seafarers of all faiths is limited to 11 years only. So, I had to consult books in order to know more about how this ecumenical cooperation started.  

On Course Together

It was in 1969, almost 40 years ago, that an international consultation on services to seafarers was initiated jointly by AOS and a number of protestant missions as well as the Division of World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches. The first joint chairpersons of the Working Group leading to the Association were the Anglican General Secretary of the Missions to Seamen, Tom Kerfoot, and the appointee of AOS in the Vatican, Monsignor Francis Frayne. This spirit of togetherness was once more manifested when it came to the creation of an ICMA Secretariat with a full time General Secretary: Missions to Seamen offered office space – free of charge -, some secretarial assistance and the use of its office equipment whereas the Apostleship of the Sea financed the remuneration of the (Anglican) General Secretary. Other members provided the working budget.

When I tell this to you in detail I address myself to the younger ones among us in particular. Cooperation across the boundaries of churches and religious communities is nothing extraordinary and nothing new. If you cooperate within this ecumenical context you do nothing but follow the footsteps of your forefathers and reap the fruits of what they have sown.  

ICMA Code of Conduct

However, successful and satisfactory cooperation has its conditions. The spirit of unity must be supported by concrete acts. That is why ICMA developed a CODE OF CONDUCT which has been signed by all members. One key word in that code of conduct is RESPECT.

Firstly, a sincere respect for the seafarer’s personal values and beliefs. This means that a ship visitor will not seek to convert a seafarer to the ship visitor’s own religious group unless the seafarer explicitly and of his own will wishes to convert.

Secondly, respect for the diversity of ICMA Members and Churches. This certainly should not prevent us from developing that which unites but it demands a clear distinction between what we can do jointly and what we cannot do.

Thirdly, respect for the loyalty of those engaged in maritime ministry to their particular ecclesiastical discipline and tradition. Frequently quoted example: we cannot share Holy Communion freely with each other across the boundaries of our Churches. This is – to say it with words of St. Paul – our thorn in the flesh. It will not be for ever but at present it is! 

ICMA Executive Committee in Rome

What does cooperation mean in practical terms? Important decisions are being taken by the Executive Committee which meets twice a year (usually upon invitation by one of the eight members). It has become a tradition that the issues are debated until all members can agree. And, of course, AOS is represented as you see from the photo. When meeting in Rome we had an exchange of views with the Cardinals Hamao and Casper. Such sharing helps the understanding of each other.

When meeting in Berlin last year our focus was on the exchange with the representative of the German Churches to the German Government and the parliamentarians.  

Regional Baltic Sea Conference in Gdynia

An important part of ICMA promoting joint reflection and action is done on the regional level. Of the eight regional coordinators two are presently from AOS, two from Mission to Seafarers, one Brazilian Lutheran, one Finnish Lutheran, one German Lutheran and one from a small South African ICMA member. All of them form part of the annual Consultative Forum so that their voice can be heard when it comes to designing joint projects and programmes.

One major task of the regional coordinator is the organisation of regional conferences every two to three years as an important platform of communication and a possibility to add on a separate AOS only meeting. 

Seafarers’ Ministry Training

Apart from the many conferences a major offer of ICMA is TRAINING. One well known course is the Seafarers Ministry Training for newly appointed port chaplains and full time lay welfare workers. The next course will be in Rotterdam for two weeks this coming October. When doing the evaluation for our main sponsor, ITF Seafarers Trust, I discovered that it was AOS which made best use of this training in the past four years: 20 out of 52 trainees were from AOS.

Intl. Sailing Chaplains’ Training in Finland

Another educational offer is the International Sailing Chaplains’ Training for port chaplains who will be given the opportunity by their employers to sail for some weeks a year. The two weeks’ training includes a certified security course as well as skill development for Sailing Chaplains. The next course will take place in Finland in April next year. Not surprisingly it was again AOS making best use of the two first courses with 8 out of 20 trainees. 

Crisis Preparedness Team

The Crisis Preparedness Course will undergo major changes. At present there are no ‘live’ courses attached to conferences. The CPC team develops an interactive course on DVD or internet respectively. Such courses will make sense if integrated into chaplains’/ welfare workers’ training as a module. The necessity of being prepared for maritime catastrophes and being integrated in port emergency plans is without question. You need to know what to do and – more importantly – what not to do in a crisis situation. 

Centres for Seafarers/Southampton

An outstanding step towards serving seafarers better and more efficiently is the creation of centres for seafarers run jointly by different missions operating in the same port. It has happened in the past when one mission usually was the owner and other missions were operating in and from the same centre. To name just a few where this cooperation worked: the AOS Centre in Antwerp, the Mission to Seafarers’ Centre in Hong Kong, the formerly German Seafarers’ Centre in Jakarta, the AOS Centre in Santos.

The other model, of course, is joint ownership of a centre. It is not quite easy a venture as it involves agreement on a number of legal questions. Some of you may know it from experience. But from a seafarer’s perspective and ICMA’s point of view it is well worthwhile. To this end - I am giving that as an example – AOS, the Mission to Seafarers and the British & International Sailors Society formed a new charity ’the Centres for Seafarers in UK’ for the purpose of paving the way for ecumenical cooperation and efficient service to seafarers. Please do note this as a shining example to be imitated. 

Representation in the Maritime Session of the Intl. Labour Organisation and the Intl. Maritime Association.

Already at the time of the foundation of ICMA one of its purposes was said ‘to be the collective and respected voice of the association within the industry and outside it’. And later on in the Constitution the phrase continued ‘to advise and inform those persons and bodies whose decisions and actions in anyway influence or affect the lives and welfare of seafarers’. In pursuit of this aim ICMA acquired observer status in the Maritime Session of the International Labour Organisation already in 1972 and more recently as well in the International Maritime Association. AOS is certainly represented in the ICMA Standing Delegations to both these bodies of the United Nations. We played our role in the development of ILO Convention 186, called the “Seafarers’ Bill of Rights”. And we invest energy, time and money in the development of the Fishermen’s Convention. 

ICMA Secretariat in London and the General Secretary designate

Another symbol of collaboration is the fact that ICMA Secretariat is housed in a building of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster – in a former primary school which we share with the offices of the Catholic Herald (a weekly paper) and AOS UK. You are invited to visit but beware, you have to climb all 111 steps employing your own strength. No lift! And as AOS seems to be of the opinion that ICMA is going strong we got the uppermost room.

Again beware: after 15th July this year you will not find me in the upper room but rather my successor: the Rev. Hendrik François la Grange from Durban in South Africa.

I shall retire to Berlin in Germany of bless you in all you do to uplift the lives of seafarers and fishermen.