|Chaplain Jasper del Rosario|
“I always thought I would be a minister in a traditional way, except for one thing. I am Filipino and about one third of the seafarers worldwide happen to come from the Philippines,” he told us as he was waiting to receive the 2018 International Seafarers’ Welfare Awards in the “Dr Dierk Lindemann Welfare Personality of the Year” category.
An international jury selected del Rosario among other individuals, companies, and organizations offering exceptional levels of welfare services and facilities to seafarers. The annual event is organized by the International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN). He received his Award from ILO Deputy Director-General Greg Vines on the sidelines of the Third Meeting of the Special Tripartite Committee of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006).
Del Rosario’s involvement with seafarers began when he started to work for the Christian NGO “Sailors’ Society” in the major port of Subic Bay, 100 km north of Manila.
“I quickly came to know the difficult working conditions many seafarers face. They usually go into this career because of family tradition, for the prospect of getting a regular salary to support their families and send their children to school,” he explains.
“It means not only a lot of hard work, but also enduring loneliness and separation from their loved ones for six or nine months, or longer.”
Supporting Haiyan’s victimsFilipino seafarers are used to living away from their families. However, when natural disasters strike the Philippines, they are also particularly affected. This was the case when typhoon Haiyan hit the area of Tacloban in November 2013, killing more than 6,000 people and leaving millions without food, shelter or livelihoods.
“As soon as it became possible to reach the city, I travelled to Tacloban to provide support to the seafarers’ community,” del Rosario explains.
This was a huge task since he and his team had to take care of three different categories of people.
“First, we had to provide immediate support to the wives and children of seafarers who were at work on ships miles away from the Philippines and sometimes even not aware of the tragic events affecting their hometown,” he recalls.
The problem was also to locate the families since there was no local record of seafarers’ families. So del Rosario had to go door to door asking people if they had neighbours who were seafarers.
Then, together with other local NGOs, he helped them rebuilt their homes, provided them with emergency cash to buy food, and gave them business grants to help them start a new life. In some cases, small fishing boats were also provided to those in need.
As news of the disaster spread, del Rosario’s global NGO network also provided psychosocial support to Filipino seafarers from the Tacloban area who sometimes did not even know if their families were still alive. They were given free phone cards to call home as telecommunications started working again.
Del Rosario also had to help seafarers from mainly domestic vessels which had been destroyed by the powerful storm, sometimes pushed to the shore and ending up in the middle of the streets. Some died, and many of the survivors, needed basic support after losing their homes to the storm.
Reuniting familiesSince then, life slowly went back to normal in Tacloban. So del Rosario went back to his usual activities for Filipino seafarers whose ships dock at the Port of Subic Bay.
“We set up counselling sessions on different topics. We also try to reunite them with their loved ones by arranging free transportation for their families as they do not necessarily have the money to travel to Subic Bay especially if their families live far away,” he explains.
More recently, del Rosario also provided support to Filipino seafarers on an abandoned ship in Malta, by helping their families, sending them some money and giving scholarship grants for their children.
Part of the communityDel Rosario now feels fully part of the Filipino seafarers’ community.
When asked about the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 that entered into force in 2013, he says it has become an essential legal instrument to prevent abuses and promote a better life for seafarers.
The MLC, 2006 sets out seafarers’ rights to decent conditions of work and helps to create conditions of fair competition for shipowners.
Other winners of the ISWAN 2018 Awards included the Port of Rotterdam (Port of the Year), Mission to Seafarers Brisbane, Australia (Seafarers’ Centre of the Year),Wallem (Shipping Company of the Year). A Posthumous Award for Outstanding Service to Seafarers’ Welfare was also given to Joseph Chacko and Leena Joseph.