British Columbia

Mission to Seafarers delivers gifts to ship crews in English Bay

Throughout the year, a Vancouver group called Mission to Seafarers provides outreach work to crew members to help them cope with social isolation and every season they bring Christmas treats to the men and women working on board.

'I'm going to deliver presents to people who won't be at home for Christmas,' says group member

Mission to Seafarers has stocked its boat with brightly wrapped gifts to deliver to the cargo ships in English Bay. (Jennifer Wilson/CBC)

The cargo ships in English Bay are full of crews waiting to come ashore, many of whom often spend the holidays away from home.

Throughout the year, a Vancouver group called Mission to Seafarers provides outreach work to crew members to help them cope with social isolation. At Christmas, they bring treats to the men and women working on board.

The crews who work on these ships are permitted to come ashore while their ships are docked. After that, they head back to the vessels.

The Mission to Seafarers group delivered 500 gifts to 18 ships Friday and provided a little bit of holiday cheer in the form of brightly wrapped boxes.

Rough life on ships

"This morning I felt bad because I was realizing the contrast between the fact that I'm so happy that I can go home to … tonight, yet I'm going to deliver presents to people who won't be at home for Christmas," said staff member Miranda Peters.

Peters said many people in Vancouver see the cargo ships floating in English Bay, but rarely think about the men and women who spend a large part of their lives on board. She describes this phenomenon as "sea blindness."

Mission to Seafarers also helps workers obtain support for labour and human rights complaints if they need it.

She said the most common complaint among workers is withheld wages. Others cite rough living conditions and some workers don't have appropriate cold weather gear.

The Mission to Seafarers staff delivered 500 gifts to 18 ships on Friday afternoon. (Jennifer Wilson/CBC)

​Many crew send most of their wages back home to family members.

Peter Lahay, an inspector with the International Transport Workers Federation in Vancouver, said relatives of ship workers suffer when wages are withheld.

The federation represents the interests of transport workers.

Lahay said sometimes, paycheques can be withheld from crew members for up to two months.

"Families at home haven't been paid for up to two months and these are all ships that are in and around our harbour right now or have just recently left," said Lahay.

Not dressed for winter

Lahay told On The Coast's Jennifer Wilson that they recently investigated a ship called the Orient Trader on the Fraser river and were shocked by the poor conditions. He said that fear of being blacklisted by employers  prevents many from speaking up.

On one vessel, the workers weren't dressed properly for the cold weather, Lahay said 

"Ukrainian seafarers talked to the local longshoremen and showed them their coat was actually falling apart, they had no warm weather gear, 10 men were sharing one coat," Lahay said.

During the holiday season, the mission helps brighten the spirits of local seafarers and raises awareness about the conditions they face year round.

To hear the full story from the CBC's On The Coast listen to media below:

With files from On The Coast, Jennifer Wilson.