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Thursday, November 8, 2012


Vatican City,  (VIS) - This morning in the Holy See Press Office Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, and Fr. Gabriele Ferdinando Bentoglio C.S., under secretary of the same dicastery, presented the twenty-third Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea, which will take place in the Vatican's New Synod Hall from 19 to 23 November. It will be attended by 410 participants, from 71 countries across all five continents, and the theme will be "New Evangelisation in the Maritime World".

"The Synod of Bishops and the Year of Faith present a challenge to the chaplains and volunteers of the Apostleship of the Sea who will meet at this congress in order to seek adequate pastoral responses to the problems faced by seafarers", said Cardinal Veglio. Among these problems, he identified the use of modern time-saving technological innovations which, while improving the speed and ease of work at sea, do not always bring corresponding improvements to the lives of seafarers, especially "those who accept employment contracts requiring them to spend many months living away from their families". In recent years this problem has been compounded by "the abandonment of ships and their crews in foreign ports without food or resources, and under increasingly restrictive measures that forbid seafarers from coming to land and expose them to abuse and exploitation. … Another issue is that of piracy, which causes long-term psychological trauma not only to seafarers but also to their families".

The international community has addressed this state of affairs by adopting the Maritime Labour Convention (2006), which "establishes minimum requirements regarding all aspects of working conditions on merchant ships, … and is considered a charter of rights for seafarers".

"The Apostleship of the Sea, through the work of its chaplains and volunteers, has always been concerned also with the welfare of fishermen and their families", continued the cardinal. "There are no precise statistics regarding the accidents affecting workers in this sector, but many international organisations consider fishing to be one of the most dangerous professions in the world. Moreover, aside from regulated work, we must not ignore the phenomenon of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing which is not infrequently connected to human trafficking and forced labour", he said.

Fr. Gabriele Bentoglio then introduced the themes that will be covered during the congress. On the first day there will be a discussion on new evangelisation wherein participants will reflect in particular on the "the proclamation of the Gospel to a growing number of seafarers who belong to the Oriental rites of the Catholic Church or to the Orthodox Church, as well as those of other denominations, without forgetting assistance to seafarers who dock at ports in Muslim countries".

Effective engagement with the maritime industry will be the theme of the second day, which will begin with a presentation by the general secretary of the International Transport Workers Foundation (ITF), which brings together 708 unions representing over 5 million workers in all transport sectors, including over half of all seafarers throughout the world. This organisation shares three aims with the Apostleship of the Sea: "improving the life of seafarers, guaranteeing primary assistance, and responding to their spiritual and material needs".

Fishermen and women will be the theme of the third day. The Apostleship of the Sea will take the opportunity, to encourage the ratification of the Convention on Work in the Fishing Sector, which employs around 36 million people.

The fourth day will be dedicated to the theme of piracy at sea, a phenomenon which particularly affects the Indian Ocean and the waters adjacent to the Horn of Africa, as well as the coasts of Western Africa, South America and the Caribbean. Fr. Bentoglio explained that this "criminal activity is difficult to combat and there is great concern regarding the increase in the violent treatment of hostages and their prolonged detention". On the same day there will also be a discussion on cruises, a growth area in the maritime sector.

Finally, the congress will consider the theme of mission work, focusing on "ecumenical collaboration with other Christian denominations in many ports throughout the world, where possible without neglecting inter-religious cooperation". Finally, two important initiatives for the protection of seafarers will be presented: Seafarers' Rights International (SRI) which links the competence of the shipping industry to the legal world in order to promote the rights and legal protection of seafarers, and Maritime Humanitarian Piracy Response (MHPR), which assists sailors and their families in the event of traumatic incidents caused by pirate attacks.

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