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NAMMA Conference 2016 Examines Social Isolation at Sea

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By MarEx 2016-08-09 16:19:31

The North American Maritime Ministry Association completed a fantastic annual conference focused on the welfare of seafarers and fishers around the world.  Running from August 2-5, 2016 at the scenic Portsmouth Renaissance Waterfront Hotel in Portsmouth, VA, the conference gathered more than 100 representatives from international seafarers’ and fishers’ welfare agencies to discuss the most critical issues of their work regionally and worldwide. 

Rev. Marsh L. Drege, Executive Director of Seafarers’ International House and President of NAMMA’s Board said, “Social isolation is unfortunately a characteristic part of the lives of seafarers and fishers worldwide. The 2016 NAMMA conference will help chaplains and ship visitors focus even more on the essential goal of being present for those who are alone.”

Social isolation is not just the subjective feeling of loneliness, but the objective state of separation from others.  Besides the natural separation from others while miles out at sea, participants noted trends such as smaller crews, changes to working hours, increased paperwork, multinational crews and the effects of usage or lack of the Internet.  No doubt, an increasing number of scholarly studies note that the various causes of social isolation contribute both to marine incidents and the challenges to seafarer retention experienced throughout the industry as a whole.

Keynote presentations came from:

•Ian Urbina, Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalist and author of “The Outlaw Ocean” article series.  Urbina presented on the challenges to fishers’ welfare worldwide.

•Martin Doblmeier, founder of Journey Films and producer of the recent nationally-televised PBS documentary “Chaplains”.  Since 1984, Doblmeier has produced and directed more than 30 films focused on religion, faith, and spirituality. Doblmeier presented on the current challenges and opportunities for chaplaincy work across all sectors.

Other program presenters and exhibitors included representatives of the:

•United States Coast Guard

•Chamber of Shipping of America

•Seafarers’ International Union/International Transport Workers Federation

•North American Marine Environment Protection Association

•Mission to Seafarers

•Sailors’ Society

•Apostleship of the Sea

•Center for Seafarers’ Rights of the Seamen’s Church Institute NY & NJ

•Apostleship of the Sea-USA

•International Christian Maritime Association

•International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network

•ITF Seafarers’ Trust

In his opening remarks, NAMMA Executive Director, Dr. Jason Zuidema noted, “By our conference theme, we are not pushing for a return to so-called the good old days in shipping: those good old days might not have seen the widespread social isolation we see today, but no doubt those old days had their fair share of social issues! Our work is not to respond to past challenges, but those of today and the future.  What does this general global trend of social isolation – amplified, we might argue, for those at sea – mean for us?  How do we respond?  What kind of presence might we have for those who live in social isolation at sea?”

The conference featured many different perspectives on the issue, but the most important was that of the conference participants themselves: representing more than 75 different seafarers’ welfare agencies, they serve thousands of seafarers on a daily basis.  The NAMMA conference helped provide a place for reflection and dialogue on a significant issue of our time.

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