Apostleship of the Sea
The Apostleship of the Sea is an agency of the Catholic Church. It is also sometimes known as Stella Maris (Star of the Sea), and its patron is the Virgin Mary as Our Lady, Star of the Sea. Founded in Glasgow, Scotland in the early 20th century, it provides pastoral care to seafarers through chaplaincies in ports in all continents of the world.
AoS provides practical and pastoral care to all seafarers, regardless of nationality, belief or race. AoS port chaplains and volunteer ship visitors welcome seafarers, offer welfare services and advice, practical help, care and friendship. The Apostleship of the Sea in Great Britain is part of an international network known to the maritime world as Stella Maris, working in more than 250 ports around the world.
The modern movement began in the 1890s with several isolated and independent beginnings. In 1891 the Apostolate of Prayer first posted devotional magazines and books from Wimbledon College to 12 ships and began enrolling seafarers in this pious association. Two years later, The Society of St. Vincent de Paul commenced visiting seafarers in the ports of Bristol, Sunderland, and Tyneside. In the same year a Catholic Seafarers’ Centre opened in Montreal.
The Apostleship of the Sea port ministry was founded in Glasgow in 1922. At this time Britain had one of the largest merchant fleets in the world, employing many thousands of British seafarers. The Apostleship of the Sea ran large seafarers’ hostels in all the major port towns where seafarers could stay while their ships were in port, often for weeks at a time. Hundreds of volunteers from the local parishes were involved in providing hospitality and entertainment for seafarers in these hostels, which were always full. Then globalisation and the drive for greater profit margins, combined with technological advances, changed the face of international shipping forever. Ships became larger, ports moved down river, and turnaround times for ships in port were reduced dramatically. Crews also became smaller, and were increasingly recruited from developing world countries where wages were lower. Owners registered their ships under so-called flags of convenience to avoid stringent regulatory controls. Today’s seafarer is no longer in port for a few nights, but often only for a few hours. In these changed circumstances they no longer need the reactive welcome of a hostel, but the pro-active outreach of a ship visit to assess practical needs, backed up by a modern drop-in centre inside the docks. These centres are equipped with email terminals and telephones to facilitate contact with loved ones back home whom they may not have seen for nine or even twelve months. They are a place to relax for an hour or so, to have a drink and a chat with other seafarers who may be using the centre. They provide a chance to stock up on essential items needed for their next stretch at sea.
In every major country, a bishop serves as the AOS episcopal promoter, overseeing the work of the national director. It is the director’s responsibility to coordinate the chaplains’ efforts and to assist them in developing their ministries. Each country hosts an annual conference. Tying all these national conferences together is the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. Because the Apostleship of the Sea’s “parishioners” move around the world, it is necessary that their pastors be in touch with one another. The World Congress held every five years, mandated by the Apostolatus Maris (Apostleship of the Sea) office, ensures this connection between countries and disseminates the pontifical council’s policies.
Life at sea means long periods of separation from family and community. Globalisation has meant fierce competition, low wages and in some cases harsh working conditions. Apostleship of the Sea, through its chaplains and seafarers centres, works in solidarity with all those whose lives depend on the sea offering them hospitality and pastoral care.
When a ship enters a port in any country, the Captain may be obliged to allow inspectors from the national maritime authority to come on board. If the inspectors feel that the ship does not meet international health and safety regulations, they can put it under arrest. The ship may not leave the port until the situation is rectified. In these circumstances, unscrupulous owners, protected by anonymity, refuse to take responsibility and abandon their ships. For the seafarers, abandonment in port is a disaster. Without money to pay the costs of returning home, they find themselves detained in countries where they have no rights to work or receive welfare benefits. There are also cases of individual seafarers being abandoned in port because they are ill or have complained about conditions. They may have to rely on welfare organisations, such as AOS, for food and support, sometimes for months at a time.
AOS-USA operates the Cruise Ship Priest Program for the pastoral care of cruise ship passengers and crew, and to ensure that only valid priests in good standing, who have their Bishop's/Provincial's permission to serve are on board as Chaplains.
The Apostleship of the Sea has port chaplains and seafarers centres at various ports around the world in over 60 countries including Angola, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Ecquador, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana,Great Britain, Honduras, Hong Kong,India,Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kenya, Korea, La Reunion, Madagascar, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Perú, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Togo, UAE, Ukraine, Uruguay, USA, Venezuela, Vietnam and the Virgin Islands. Within Great Britain AoS is working in the following ports Aberdeen, Berwick upon Tweed, Blyth, Bristol, Dover, Falmouth, Fawley, Felixstowe, Fraserburgh, Goole, Grangemouth, Harwich, Hartlepool, Hull, Hunterston, Immingham, Ipswich, Liverpool, Medway, Milford Haven, Pembroke Dock, Peterhead, Plymouth, Portland, Portsmouth, Seaham, Sharpness, London, Southampton, Sunderland, Teesport, Teignmouth, Thamesport, Tilbury, Troon and the Tyne.
As a charity, the Apostleship of the Sea relies heavily on voluntary contributions from members of the public and organisations in order to carry out its work.
Each year on the second Sunday of July the Catholic Church remembers seafarers and prays for them, their families and those who support them. Sea Sunday is AoS’s principal fundraising and awareness raising event of the year.
It was a founder member of the International Christian Maritime Association in 1969.
- British & International Sailors’ Society (Protestant)
- Finnish Seamen's Mission (Lutheran)
- Mission to Seafarers (Anglican)
- The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen (UK)
- The Marine Society (Seafarers' Charity)