Stuart Rivers, Chief Executive Officer At Sailors’ Society, Talks Maritime Welfare, Coaching, Innovation, Global Crisis Response Network & Piracy, Gender Diversity And More
Stuart Rivers is Chief Executive Officer at Sailors’ Society, an international Christian charity working in ports across the world. Stuart joined the Society in April 2013 bringing his previous experience as Executive Director of Enterprise at the Bible Society where he took a strategic role in developing a group of commercial businesses. Prior to this, Stuart worked for some years in The Salvation Army as a Church Leader and Community Service Director, managing business affairs and community outreach programmes. Earlier in his career, Stuart worked with Ericsson Enterprise UK, starting in 1989 and finishing in 2002 when he was Global Commercial Director.
2018 is an important year for Sailors’ Society as it marks its foundation 200 years ago in London to minister to the needs of destitute seafarers who had returned home from the Napoleonic Wars. We could not miss this opportunity to talk to Stuart about their bicentenary celebration year!
My responsibilities extend far beyond the job description and I consider myself a disrupter in the welfare sector, someone who encourages great ideas from staff and an advocate for seafarers and their families around the world who need support. In practical terms this means building and maintaining a strong head office team and supporting them to succeed. It means working with our fundraisers to help secure the income we need to run our projects, communicating with frontline staff, speaking with seafarers and their families and feeding their comments back. It also means getting in front of the trade and general media to promote the work of the Society and the challenges seafarers face.
Some might think that leadership is a lonely place but I see it as an immersive experience where my role is to facilitate the charity’s vision.
Your charity has been helping seafarers and their families since 1818. What has been your focus for this bicentenary year?
To celebrate our 200th anniversary and still be ahead of the game is truly astounding. We wanted to make this a year of celebration, honouring all of those who have contributed to making the charity what it is and offering a chance for everyone to get involved with this special anniversary.
Sailors’ Society has always been a brilliant innovator. The charity’s first act back in 1818 was to convert one of Nelson’s former warships, Speedy, into a floating chapel for seafarers. Affectionately known as the Ark, it became one of the many homes from home, from church halls to seafarers’ centres – where seafarers could meet and receive practical, emotional and spiritual help from the Society’s chaplains.
"The Speedy" - Image Released With Permission Of Sailors’ Society
We continue to innovate and are always looking to the future, exploring new opportunities to expand our global services and enhance the support we offer through new digital platforms. Alongside that, we continue our core work and last year reached more than 375,000 seafarers and their families, to help them in times of need.
What are the most common challenges faced by men and women at sea and how do you support them?
Many of the issues faced by the seafarers that the charity supported in our fledgling years are the same today. Our chaplains – now working in 29 countries around the world – are still there for those facing financial difficulties, isolation, dangerous conditions and separation from loved ones.
The latter is a daily issue for every seafarer, as communication with friends and family can be severely limited and can compound the feelings of isolation that many experience.
Society chaplains take phone cards and Wi-Fi on board thousands of ships so seafarers can speak to their loved ones. There was even a case where our port chaplain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Regina Borges de Paula, introduced a new father to his baby for the first time over video call. As technology evolves, so do the means through which seafarers contact us for help. Seafarers stranded on abandoned ships send SOS messages to Sailors’ Society using Twitter and Facebook and chaplains communicate with them and their anxious families on WhatsApp. We have even built our own app to help chaplains share information, better measure the impact of their work and provide continuity of care from port to port. The technology has been licensed to the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) and is available to 28 member organisations globally.
Away from home for months at a time, seafarers are often unable to access facilities due to tight security and quick turnaround times. So each year, Sailors’ Society chaplains transport thousands of seafarers to shops and vital medical care.
We also recognise the psychological impact that life at sea can have. It is why we set up a global Crisis Response Network, which offers a 24-hour support service to seafarers who have suffered trauma, through incidents such as piracy or accidents at sea. The network has already helped many, including the crew of anti-piracy vessel MV Seaman Guard Ohio, who were acquitted of weapons charges, having previously been handed a five-year prison sentence.
Our crisis responders have been working closely with the Indian and Ukrainian crew and families from the ship, offering counselling and support to reintegrate into their communities. Our chaplain in Chennai, Manoj Joy, provided welfare and financial support for the crew and their families throughout their ordeal, as well as helping the seafarers’ lawyers prepare their appeal.
We also created our Wellness at Sea coaching programme in response to the impact that everyday seafaring can have on seafarers’ health. The programme comprises of a variety of tools including a coaching course, surveys, a free app and e-learning platform. It aims to promote on board fitness and well-being and in turn help minimise poor health or incidents at sea. Since its launch in 2015, more than 2,000 have benefited from the programme. From individual givers to large organisation, our work would not be possible without the incredible support of our donors.
What would be your advice to those younger generations looking to develop a career at sea?
A career at sea can be incredibly rewarding and for many offers a route out of poverty. However, we have noticed that although the training seafarers undergo prior to going to sea is excellent, it often concentrates on the traditional hard skills required, which can leave new recruits underprepared for some of the harsh realities that life at sea brings – such as isolation. That’s why we created our Wellness at Sea coaching programme and app, which help equip seafarers with some of the softer skills.
We hope that graduates of the course, which explores five aspects of wellness – social, emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual – will be able to recognise and pre-empt signs of physical or mental ill health for both themselves and crewmates.
The course can be undertaken in a traditional classroom setting or online and I would strongly recommend anyone considering a career at sea undergoes this, or a similar course, to prepare them for life at sea.
Likewise, if finances are an issue, it is worth looking at what scholarships or grants might be available – such as Sailors’ Society’s nautical grants programme.
Is gender diversity at sea a reality?
Shipping is changing and what may traditionally be viewed as a male only environment is no longer; that said, the industry still has a fair way to go. It’s great to see initiatives such as the recently formed Women in Maritime Forum which aims to address fairness, equality and inclusion within the maritime sector.
What more can the industry do to support seafarers?
Countless investigations into disasters at sea have proven that anxiety and fatigue can take a terrible toll on the decision-making abilities of crew. We are looking to ship owners to prioritise crew wellness and invest in training - such as our Wellness at Sea programme - in order to help prevent disasters like the El Faro tragedy.
Our Wellness at Sea Conference (16 March, London) aims to address crew wellness and how this impacts on the health of the ship - and ultimately the health of the ship owner’s balance sheet - and we are expecting a high turnout from forward-thinking companies.
We’ve been heartened to see so many industry leaders collaborating with us on our wellness work, but so there is still so much more to be done.
Seafarers are subject to piracy attacks at sea. How do you deal with these stressful situations?
Sadly, piracy is a dreadful reality of seafaring, its threat hangs daily over many seafarers’ heads. We’ve also seen a growth in terrorist attacks particularly in the Philippines.
Our Crisis Response Network now has more than 50 specially trained responders who are able to offer front line and ongoing support, counselling and welfare to survivors of incidents such as piracy, as well as to family members and any others affected.
The network operates in Africa, Asia and Europe and cases are referred to us either directly by an individual or company or we might make an offer of assistance. All cases are treated confidentially and our responders develop a programme of support tailored specifically to each service user.
The caseload is growing daily and includes seafarers such as Adi who received support and counselling to help return to ‘normal’ life following his release from five years held captive by pirates. I continue to be truly humbled by the strength of those we assist.
Anyone in need can contact our team on firstname.lastname@example.org, +44(0)23 80 515950 or via any of our social media accounts.
How do you see new regulation affecting seafarers over the short and medium term?
The introduction of MLC (2006) was a key moment for seafarer welfare, even though some would say that it doesn’t go far enough. My view, for what it’s worth, is that it is less about the particular clauses and what they mean for seafarers and more about the fact that we have set the minimum standard and have something to build upon globally.
As we pursue greater protections for seafarers, our representation at the IMO as part of the ICMA delegation is key. Through this delegation we can directly influence future changes to the convention that will positively affect seafarers.
The current challenge, I believe, is to get more nation states signed up to the convention so that the minimum standard can be expected everywhere. It is interesting that such a high proportion of abandonment cases relate to vessels flagged in states that have not ratified MLC (2006) and I believe this is a campaign trail that we should be pursuing through our advocacy work to raise global standards.
What charitable events are planned over the coming months?
We kicked off the year with our 200th anniversary launch drinks reception at Trinity House, London, joining together with many of our closest industry supporters. We will continue to celebrate with a variety of events throughout the year including our Wellness at Sea Conference (16 March, London), an Anniversary Service (24 April, Southwark Cathedral, London) and challenge events to raise funds for our work around the world. The latter includes two new events, a Great Wall of China trek in May and the Loch Ness Challenge, a canoe expedition in the wilds of Scotland. You can find out more about all of these and how to sign up at www.sailors-society.org
In addition, we’ve used our remarkable archives to produce a quality, coffee-table-style book, aptly titled ‘200 Stories from the Sea’. It features a whole host of stories from our history, taking readers from desperate times at London docks following the Napoleonic Wars to the missionary eaten by cannibals, through World Wars, HMS Victory, Titanic and the tunes played on our centre piano by none other than The Beatles. It’s a fabulous read and will be available to purchase from late April.
We’ve launched a special blend of coffee, HMS Victory, in partnership with the National Museum of the Royal Navy, in honour of our 200th birthday and to raise funds. The coffee is one of seven great blends that we offer and is available to buy via www.bysea.org
Sailors’ Society is also fortunate to have some excellent companies and individuals running or taking part in events in our aid, from charity golf days to marathon running to canoeing on open sea!
Please tell us about your memorable shipping experience:
Only last year, I discovered that my grandfather, William Ross, was one of 34 men lost when the trawler he was on board, HMS Ullswater, was torpedoed in the English Channel. He was just 43 years old.
We’d never discussed the circumstances of his death and it only came to light when my cousin in Canada sent me details of the tragedy. While it is very sad to have never met my grandfather in person, I feel that I am now starting to understand what a great man he was through his service to King and country.
Because my work involves supporting those affected by trauma at sea, it has given me greater insight into how devastating my grandfather’s loss must have been for my grandmother and mother as a child.
Editor, Marine Strategy
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