Readers of this newsletter should be familiar with the pandemic-driven crew change crisis that had some 400,000 mariners confined onboard ship for up to a year without relief. As nations shut their borders to prevent the spread of the virus, they disrupted the system by which fresh crews are transported by air to a port to relieve their peers after their tour of duty. By the end of the year it was clear that only widespread vaccination of mariners could ease the logjam, but how do you get the shots to men and women who are usually at sea?
That’s where Catholic Labor Network Spiritual Moderator Fr Sinclair Oubre and CLN member Doreen Badeaux come in. A seafarer himself, Oubre directs Stella Maris-Diocese of Beaumont, and Doreen is the Secretary General for the Apostleship of the Sea-USA in busy Port Arthur, Texas. They track the arrival of ships in the port. Working with the Port Arthur International Seafarers’ Center, Port Arthur Health Department and the National Guard, they formed rapid response teams that would vaccinate the mariners during their brief shore leave – or even onboard the ship if they were not granted leave.
“It’s ironic,” said Doreen Badeaux, who works for AOS-USA. “On shore, people were worried that these men and women might infect us with COVID. In reality, THEY should be afraid of US.” The mariners had boarded their ships before the pandemic peaked and, isolated at sea, were generally safe from infection. They needed a vaccine to safely disembark and mingle with those of us on shore who might carry the virus – especially if they intend to head for an airport and fly home, their tour of duty complete.
The vaccination effort has been especially welcomed by the many mariners from the global South, where the shots are in short supply. A large number of seafarers served by Stella Maris in Port Arthur hail from India or the Philippines.