Albany Port wi-fi initiative a lifeline to stranded seafarers confined to ships amid COVID-19 restrictions

Sarah MakseAlbany Advertiser
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Albany port manager Graeme Poole (second from left) with volunteers Marilou Lomes and Norm and Jane Stevens.
Camera IconAlbany port manager Graeme Poole (second from left) with volunteers Marilou Lomes and Norm and Jane Stevens. Credit: Laurie Benson/Albany Advertiser

For the more than 4500 international seafarers that dock in Albany each year, the sight of our port city signals an opportunity to escape the isolation and loneliness that comes with months at sea.

But since COVID-19 hit, seafarers have been confined to the vessels while berthed at Albany Port, unable to travel ashore to buy phones and SIM cards to contact their families.

Not-for-profit group Seafarer Connect has teamed up with Southern Ports to buy a waterproof wi-fi box to be provided to ships docked in Albany, offering a lifeline to home and source of comfort for the seafarers.

Quarantine restrictions and difficulty changing crews means many of the workers have not stepped on land for 18 months, with limited to no internet connectivity on board.

Crew aboard the Warnow Chief using the supplied wi-fi.
Camera IconCrew aboard the Warnow Chief using the supplied wi-fi. Credit: Supplied

A study from Yale University in 2019 found seafarers suffered from high levels of depression and anxiety.

The free wi-fi box is hoisted on to each ship, allowing seafarers to video call their families or download entertainment.

Southern Ports Albany regional manager Gary Crockford said they were pleased to help seafarers stay connected to loved ones.

“The provision of wi-fi is something many of us take for granted, yet it is a simple and effective way that we can help improve the wellbeing of the thousands of seafarers visiting Albany each year,” he said.

“The welfare of people — not just that of our staff and contractors, but anyone we come into contact with — is a core value of who we are as a company and as citizens who genuinely care about other people.”

Seafarer Connect’s Bernie Farrel said with Southern Ports’ support, they would be able to continue the initiative in Albany for another three years.

A wi-fi box is hoisted on to a ship.
Camera IconA wi-fi box is hoisted on to a ship. Credit: Supplied

“It’s very special when you see seafarers getting some face time with their families after months at sea; it’s pretty emotional to be honest,” he said.

Local volunteers have been making sure crews delivering cargo to Albany have not been forgotten amid strict COVID-19 restrictions.

Albany Mission to Seafarers have been delivering boxes of essentials and treats to crews since COVID-19 began, helping more than 100 vessels.

“The seafarers have been out at sea for months and months and months; it must be horrendous if you are stuck away from your family for all that time,” chairwoman June Stevens said.

Albany Mission to Seafarers ship visitor Norm Stevens, chairperson Jane Stevens, Albany Port manager Graeme Poole and Stella Maris Seafarers Mission manager Marilou Lomes.
Camera IconAlbany Mission to Seafarers ship visitor Norm Stevens, chairperson Jane Stevens, Albany Port manager Graeme Poole and Stella Maris Seafarers Mission manager Marilou Lomes. Credit: Laurie Benson/Albany Advertiser

“We have always called the seafarers the forgotten people because 90 per cent of our goods come by sea and Australia couldn’t function without seafarers.

“They really are an essential service.”

Stella Maris Seafarers Centre manager Marilou Lomes said their volunteers helped with shopping requests from crew members and offered support.

“They are very happy and appreciative of the device, especially with video calls,” she said.

“When they are in the anchorage, they cannot wait to berth to get a good signal and then communicate with their families.”

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