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12 July is Sea Sunday, when the Church asks us to pray for seafarers and support the work of Apostleship of the Sea, whose chaplains and ship visitors provide practical and pastoral help in ports around Britain.

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Phil Nolan visiting some seafarers

One such Apostleship of the Sea visitor is Phil Nolan who spent most of his career sitting behind a desk.  Now, the former civil servant dons a hard hat and high vis jacket and spends part of each week helping seafarers in the port of Hull.

Phil is an Apostleship of the Sea volunteer ship visitor.  His role is to visit ships and offer seafarers practical help and pastoral care.  This can be anything from providing phone cards and transport to local shops to arranging for seafarers to attend Mass, or visiting them in hospital.

Given that the maritime industry seems a hidden one, most of us probably never think much about seafarers.  Yet 90% of the goods we buy arrive by sea, everything from cars and mobile phones to tomatoes and meat.  If seafarers went on strike, Britain would quickly grind to a halt.

Phil decided to become a ship visitor after attending a presentation in his parish about the work of Apostleship of the Sea.

“What I find most rewarding about meeting seafarers is listening to their stories and sharing experiences.  I assist them while they are in port in various ways, such as providing transport to shops or helping them to contact home,” he said.

Many of the men he meets are from countries in the developing world, such as the Philippines and India.  They join a ship to earn enough money to support their family back home.

Typically, they are away for ten months at a time.  They work long hours for low pay and often live in poor conditions and with little in the way of creature comforts.

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Phil Nolan onboard ship

He added that being a ship visitor has enabled him to give something back to seafarers, who work long hours and often for low pay to bring us the goods we need for our daily lives.

He is also learning Russian, as many of the ships arriving in Hull come from Russia.  “It’s useful to be able to greet and engage seafarers in their own language.  But since becoming an Apostleship of the Sea ship visitor, I’ve discovered that we all have similar needs.  And I’ve also learned that a smile goes a long way to overcome any linguistic or cultural barriers.”