Cash crisis for sailor charity

ONE of the busiest seafarers' centres in the world is today facing a cash crisis and the prospect of cutting its opening hours.

ONE of the busiest seafarers' centres in the world is today facing a cash crisis and the prospect of cutting its opening hours.

The mission on the Port of Felixstowe is used by more than 25,000 seafarers a year - giving them a vital break from the ship and a chance to relax from the months at sea, allowing them to contact families, receive advice and support, and buy a few little luxuries.

But the Seafarers' Centre has now been running at a loss for three years - it is set for a £20,000 deficit this year - and as a charity is being forced to deal with the problems.

Costs have risen on all fronts - power bills have soared, and fuel charges are having a huge impact on the cost of the free bus ferrying seamen between ships and the centre.

Spending by seafarers has been down, crews are smaller, and faster turnarounds mean less time ashore. With the majority paid in dollars, the high pound has reduced spending power.

Staff were told opening hours would have to be cut 40 per cent, and one of the four day shifts axed.

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At a crisis meeting, staff, volunteers and chaplains were desperate to find ways to keep cuts to a minimum with staff offering to alter manning levels despite the impact on hours and pay.

However, the centre will now have to close at 10pm each day in the New Year and a major fundraising drive now needs to be launched.

Fundraising officer Len Lanigan said: “We need now to raise some extra money to try to ensure further cuts will not have to be made to what is a vital service to the seafarers upon whose work a great many people in this town rely.

“I think part of the problem has been that we are not a high profile charity - we get on with our work quietly and people probably thought everything was OK.”

The first part of the drive for extra funds has been to make the seafarers aware of the problems, and now letters are to be sent to the dozens of companies in the port to see if they can offer help.

He added: “Life at sea can be hard, lonely and hazardous. In many countries it is too dangerous to leave the ship. It could be weeks or even months before a seafarer can contact home.

“A snatched trip ashore then has become a luxury for seafarers even though what they want, for the most part, are the simple things the rest us take for granted - a chance to relax away from work, to post letters, to call home and maybe even see the family by webcam on the internet, to buy a few things - chocolates, cakes, toiletries and presents.”

Should the centre receive national funding? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

CASE STUDY: Jan Brohldich

SEVENTEEN-year-old apprentice Jan Brohldich is on his first voyage at sea - but he already appreciates the work of the Felixstowe Seafarers' Centre.

Part of the crew of the container ship Northern Joy, he is at sea, away from his family, for four months, visiting a wide range of countries.

He said: “For me the Seafarers Centre here and in other ports is really important.

“It gives me a chance to speak to my family and to send emails home and use the internet.

“It is also really nice just to be able to get off the ship and chill - somewhere different to relax.”

All the crew members took advantage of their short breaks while in port to board the bus run by the volunteer drivers and escape for a couple of hours to play pool, use the centre library, buy supplies and spend time with other colleagues from other vessels.

“It is really good for morale and really lifts us. It is important that the centre stays,” he added.