Seafarers have a mate in a Sister

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A SYDNEY sister is working around the clock to help the thousands of exhausted sea farers caught up in the centre of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Known as the “angel of Sydney’s waterfront” Sr Mary Leahy has spent the past 20 years helping those who earn a living on the seas and said she has never seen conditions so desperate.

Trapped on what has been described as “floating prisons” many of the world’s 1.6 million seafarers already at sea for up to nine months have no real sign of when they will be able to return home.

The current restrictions have been likened to a ’time bomb’ in the maritime industry with all shore leave denied internationally, leaving sea farers stuck on ships and playing havoc with not only their physical but mental health.

Sr Mary Leahy has spent the past 20 years helping those who earn a living on the seas and said she has never seen conditions so desperate.

Sr Mary, chaplain to the seafarers, is in constant communication with each ship that docks at Port Botany offering support to those needing communication with loved ones, wage and abuse information, as well as those dealing with loneliness, isolation, illness and mental health issues.

Long regarded as one of the last bastions of the hard-core union movement, both “rough and tumble” wharfies right up to international shipping company CEOs, sing the praises of the nautical nun and the support she offers all who visit Sydney’s waterfront.

Day-and-night, the softly spoken sister with a cheeky sense of humour is known to appear with everything from clean clothes, practical ad vice, spiritual guidance or just a listening ear for somebody doing it tough.

However, the current restrictions have left her unable to board the ships and forced her to offer assistance from her modest Port Botany office.

Donations can also be sent to Sr Mary Leahy at Gate B105 Penrhyn Road, Port Botany.

Personal hygiene products including shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, deodorant and razors, as well as knitted beanies and chocolates has been desperately requested by the seafarers, so she has launched an urgent appeal for donations.

She said tragic events like the 21 deaths of passengers from the Ruby Princess highlights the problems on board cruise ships whereas seafarers on cargo vessels are the ‘forgotten fleet out of sight and out of mind.’

“Times are always pretty dire for seafarers, they are mostly driven to work at sea by extreme poverty, but this virus has taken it to a whole new level,” she said.

“It is estimated that around 100,000 seafarers finish their contracts and fly home every month in normal times but that is not currently happening, and they are stuck on the ships for who knows how long.

“They are always in danger, in isolation and generally forgotten by society yet carry 98% of world trade.

“Covid-19 is of course exacerbating this reality with all the extra danger involved. It is beyond lamentable seafarers are treated so shabbily.

“Just knowing Sydney is a friendly port makes their lives that little bit more bearable.

“The Care Packages might be a small thing but it’s something that lets them know they are cared for and thought of.”

Sr Mary Leahy and helpers delivering precious cargo of a different kind to desperate sailors. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Awarded an Order of Australia medal in recognition for her 20-year service with the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Stella Maris Apostleship of the Sea, she is very content with her calling despite the often-rough waters.

“In 20 years, I think I’ve seen it all, nothing surprises me anymore which is probably why I’m so trusted,” she said.

“I just get on and do what needs to be done, there is always a need for the work we do and now more so than ever.

“Being able to help these people every day is a privilege and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

Donations can also be sent to Sr Mary Leahy at Gate B105 Penrhyn Road, Port Botany.