Sailors on boats docked at UAE ports get presents
Ramola Talwar Badam
Dec 24, 2012
DUBAI // Thousands of small parcels are being
distributed to sailors on boats docked at UAE ports during the festive season.
"Merry Christmas! Someone in the UAE is thinking
of you," reads a small card tucked into the gifts of chocolates, shampoo
and soap rolled into a white T-shirt and tied securely with a blue ribbon.
More than 8,000 such presents are being delivered by
The Mission to Seafarers, a 156-year-old Christian agency, to seamen on
hundreds of ships in Jebel Ali, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Hamriya ports.
The parcel has helped new seaman, Pranal D'souza, 20,
overcome a bout of the blues on his first stint away from his family in Mumbai.
"It's just so nice that someone has even thought
of us," said Mr D'souza, on a tug boat surrounded by his shipmates at
Jebel Ali port.
"This gift really helps me. I'm missing my
cousins and family, the parties and the Christmas mass at home.
"But it's okay because I now must concentrate on
my career, and this is just the beginning for me. I think of my family opening
Christmas gifts, and so it's fun for me to open a gift when I'm so far from
Chief officer Shaikh Zahid, 27, also from India, has
been sailing for five years and says festivals are particularly hard on the
crew. Most are at sea for four months to a year, and are often not permitted
onshore due to a ship's rules or strict port formalities.
"We all know it's important for us to do our jobs
and our work is out at sea, so you get addicted to life at sea," he said.
"But festivals are very difficult. Any festival
is hard for the men because you think of home, and you hope to call your family
and hear their voices any chance you get. So getting these gifts is a nice,
unexpected surprise. It makes the men smile."
The mission operates seafarer centres in 258 ports in
The UAE is the only country where the mission's
volunteers and chaplains distribute presents to seamen during Christmas and
The gifts are donated by local businesses and hotels.
The T-shirts distributed carry the mission's welfare centre hotline contacts so
sailors can speak to volunteers when they are in need of assistance.
This is the fourth year The Mission to Seafarers has
undertaken the gift distribution initiative.
In Fujairah anchorage, the mission's support boat, the
Flying Angel, pulls up near tankers and cargo vessels to hand over parcels to
seafarers, while in Jebel Ali volunteers climb on board boats docked at the
"A seafarer's life is very tough and this counts
for something, it means something to them," said Paul Burt, the managing
director and senior chaplain of the mission.
"It is during the major holidays that seafarers
feel the most isolated and alone. This is when they miss their families the
most and the gifts are an expression of support and solidarity with them."
Yusuf Bandarzadar, an Iranian chief engineer with 35
years sailing experience, said this was the first gift he had received.
"We always take gifts back to the family, but it
feels different to get something from a stranger. I feel I'm not alone, that
somebody is thinking of me," he said.
Herman Erake, an Indonesian captain's assistant on an
offshore passenger boat, said the crew wanted to spend more time on the phone
with their families during Christmas and New Year.
"When we get a signal everyone wants to try to
call home but, of course, it's expensive so only a few minutes is
possible," said Mr Erake.
"We always take lots of gifts and toys back home
for our family. This is the first time we are getting a gift. It may be a small
parcel, but it means so much."
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