Not Singapore, not Copenhagen – Bremerhaven is Port of the Year 2016: the German city on the North Sea coast has won the annual award by the International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN). “The seafarers made the choice themselves, in doing so showing their appreciation for all of the work that is done for them,” says Martin Günthner, Bremen’s Senator for Economics, Labour and Ports, expressing how much the prize means. This award is not about handling figures or efficiency, but about the well-being of people that earn their living at sea under very challenging conditions, he explains.
Bremerhaven: port as a home away from home
Worldwide there are around 1.6 million men and women working at sea. They are subjected to great stress for weeks, sometimes even months: changing time zones and different climate conditions, tight living spaces and limited opportunities for relaxation on board – not to mention being away from family and friends. “Despite advanced digitalisation, there is often no reliable internet access or mobile signal,” says Werner Gerke, Seafarers’ Pastor in Bremerhaven’s port. With this in mind, the Seamen’s Mission offers free internet access and international telephone cards so that seafarers can keep in contact with home during their stay in the port of Bremerhaven.
Going ashore in Bremerhaven is worthwhile even for short layovers. The terminal operators at the container and vehicle port provide a free shuttle service to the Seamen’s Club. The Seamen’s mission collects seafarers from other parts of the port. The bikes donated by Bremerhaven’s nautical association (Nautischer Verein zu Bremerhaven), which can be borrowed free of charge from the Seamen’s Club, are also very popular. Pilots, the port police and the port health authority make seafarers aware of the services offered by the Seamen’s Mission and the port before they have even left the ship. The rapid processing of visa-related matters by the German police is another aspect that is much appreciated. Together with representatives from the trade union, the professional association, the port sector, the Bremerhaven port administration and the Seamen’s Mission, they make up the port’s social committee, which regularly supports the work of the Seamen’s Mission.
Bremerhaven: port supports seamen in every situation
25,000 seafarers in the Seamen’s Club “Welcome”, 6816 overnight guests and 14,984 day guests to the Seamen’s Residence, 1270 visits on board ships, 1136 Christmas packages: these are the impressive statistics that highlight the work of the Seamen’s Mission and its Pastor, Werner Gerke. Added to this are numerous consultations in crisis situations, visits to the hospital, support with religious matters and tours for groups of visitors, which provide information on work in the port. “I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Pastor Gerke and his team, as well as everyone else involved in and around the Bremerhaven seaport, for their great commitment to the seafarers,” says Senator Günthner. “This broad support is what makes it possible to welcome people working at sea so warmly. As the Senator for Ports I am delighted that we have developed such a positive reputation as an internationally renowned site in social terms as well.”