The sailor has a central place in Stella Maris' objectives. He must be able to find a resting point ashore, even if it is only for a few hours. Also due to the ongoing evolution in the shipping business: shorter port stays; smaller crews etc. many seamen don’t have any longer the time and opportunity to visit the seamen's foyer.
The foyer in the AHH where sailors can also meet guests in the hotel.
Stella Maris Antwerp has followed this evolution by focusing increasingly on ships visits. If the sailor can no longer come to us, we will go to the sailor. So our port chaplains and volunteers, form a strong team with the other sailor missions with Christian roots with whom we are associated in the Antwerp Seafarers Welfare.
The chaplains, fathers, padre's, pastors, etc. have neatly divided the harbour into sections and they visit the ships that dock in their assigned sectors.
Welfare on wheels
How important ship visits became was most clearly expressed during the COVID-19 pandemic when all pubs and restaurants in Antwerp went into lockdown, including the seamen's houses. For the seamen there was also the problem of crew changes. Many crews stayed sometimes on board for more than a year. Shore leave was forbidden for safety reasons. Many had squeezed out their last toothpaste from their tube, or used up the last drop of after shave, no more aspirins and neither any sweets.
Just as Stella Maris had a mini-shop on the Italiëlei, a shop for sailors opened in the Antwerp Harbour Hotel but without visitors the shop remained empty. But Ann, the welfare and business manager found a solution. Knowing from experience the needs and desires of her clientele, she loaded her van with the most popular items and drove to the vessels, offering the required necessities.
During the pandemic, the welfare workers went into the harbour to the gangway.
The shop on wheels was very much appreciated and the concept of “welfare on wheels” became a local success.
Due to the longer and unexpected length of stay at sea, many sailors, especially those from southern regions, had a shortage of warm clothing upon arrival in northern waters and ports. Like all ship visitors, Ann was also prepared for this and she loaded her van with a selection of second-hand pulls and warm vests that were distributed free of charge.
The reading room in the AHH where books and magazines are available to visiting sailors.