MANY of the 29,000 seafarers who visit the Port of Newcastle each year are now keeping connected to friends and family thanks to free WiFi provided by Seafarer Connect, the Port of Newcastle and Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group (NCIG).
A media release from the organisations said the mental health benefits for crew, who are often at sea for over a year at a time, of phone calls, Zoom, and messaging contact with loved ones cannot be overstated.
“While isolation, homesickness and mental health issues are ever present COVID has only made the challenges even harder,” the release said.
“Pre-pandemic seafarers worked on ships for nine months at a time but now, because crews are unable to disembark due to quarantine restrictions, they are stuck onboard vessels for two years at a time.
“This means they are unable to purchase cheap phone cards, SIM cards or access inexpensive onshore communication equipment. There is no connectivity onboard most ships visiting the Port of Newcastle apart from satellite communications which is prohibitively expensive for crew to use.”
Under this new initiative, funded by Port of Newcastle and NCIG, seafarers are now able to get online through their phones, tablets and computers thanks to the devices.
Robert Coombs from Seafarer Connect said, “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”.
“It’s fantastic that the seafarers moving the various cargoes day and night through the Port of Newcastle can now keep in contact with their loved ones.
“This Friday 25 June is International Day of The Seafarer so it’s great to celebrate this initiative at this time.
“Thanks to industry stakeholders at the Port of Newcastle and NCIG, we’ve now been able to continue the initiative for a further three years thanks to their financial contributions.”
Port of Newcastle operations manager Philipp Bourquin said the port was proud to provide funding for the WiFi kits to help seafarers feel closer to home.
“The provision of WiFi 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 Port of Newcastle each year,” he said.
NCIG acting CEO John Kite said it’s been great to be part of an initiative which keeps people a bit closer to home.
“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,” he said.
“We’re really pleased to team up with Seafarer Connect and Port of Newcastle in providing such a simple and effective way for the seafarers who visit our shores to stay connected with their loved ones.”
A seafarer aboard the Warnow Chief says he was able to watch his children play over FaceTime and attend the live streamed funeral of a loved one.
“Thanks so much for this service, it means so much,” he said.
At ports across the nation Seafarer Connect helps thousands of seafarers connect to home with each using roughly 2.6 gigabytes of data – enough for many hours of video calls to family, to browse news services from home and to download a few movies, online courses or other literature.