BY Ryan McDougall | June 14 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Why I volunteer: our new series looks at the work of those inspired by Faith to help others

John Murray, a ship visitor of the Apostelship of the Sea, Aberdeen, explains what drives him to volunteer for the cause.

At the end of 2012 I retired after 20 years as the headteacher of Harlaw Academy. Before that, for a number of years, one of the highlights of the calendar of St Mary`s Cathedral in Aberdeen had been the Sea Sunday presentation by Deacon Brian Kilkerr, Apostleship of the Sea Port Chaplain for Aberdeen and the North East.

When I retired I sent an email to Brian offering myself as a volunteer. My motivation for this was twofold. First, I believed that I would enjoy meeting seafarers as their vessels visited Aberdeen, people from all over the world who have been all over the world.


Destigmatising the country

Second, I wanted to do my small bit to counter the image of the UK as a mean and unwelcoming country which I believe has been gaining currency in recent years because of the behaviour of some politicians and some media outlets.

Somewhat to my surprise, my email to Brian was responded to by Doug Duncan, now Deacon Doug, who had just taken over as Port Chaplain on Brian`s retirement.

Since then I have accompanied Doug on visits to hundreds of vessels and thousands of seafarers.

Most, but not all, of those whose vessels dock in Aberdeen work for companies who provide good terms and conditions.


Long voyages

However, many are away from home and family for up to 11 months without a break and are working 12 hours each and every day that they are on-board a ship.

Very often the conversations we have with crew members are little more than light banter with people who are just glad to have someone else to talk to other than their 10 or 12 shipmates.

However, on occasion people do want to talk more seriously about births, illnesses or bereavements.

Regardless of the nature of the conversations, invariably the last thing we hear as we take our leave is, ‘Thanks for coming, thanks for your visit.’



Many readers will be familiar with the plight of the Malaviya Seven which were marooned in Aberdeen from June 2015 until November 2017.

The Indian crew received no pay during that time and were unsure when their ordeal was going to end.

In large part due to the efforts of Deacon Doug in his support for the work of the ITF union, the saga came to a satisfactory conclusion and the seafarers received all the money they were due.

During their enforced stay in Aberdeen the crew received a huge amount of support from the local community in general and the Catholic Church in particular.


Day trips

My main contribution was to take crew members on day trips to different parts of Scotland. I enjoyed visits for the first time in my life to, among other places, Arbroath Abbey, Dundee Law and the Dufftown Distillery.

Other novel and very enjoyable experiences included a dressage display and my first ever game of indoor cricket at Shell`s Woodbank Club here in Aberdeen. This was all great fun. As one crew member remarked: “The best of times; the worst of times.”

The long term and very happy outcome of all of this is that there are families all over India who have a high regard and affection for the Catholic Church and the community of Aberdeen.

Next year, the Apostleship of the Sea will celebrate its centenary in Glasgow where it was founded in St Aloysius’ parish. It now has a presence in more than 300 ports across the globe.

There is much to celebrate.

Do you know someone who could contribute to our ‘Why I Volunteer’ series? Email if you or someone you know would like to contribute.

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