Many of the 10,000 seafarers who visit Port Kembla each year are now keeping connected to friends and family thanks to free WIFI provided by Seafarer Connect and Port Authority of NSW.
The mental health benefits for crew – who are often at sea for over a year at a time and who can now contact loved ones via phone, zoom and messaging – cannot be overstated.
While isolation, homesickness and mental health issues are ever present for seafarers, COVID has made the challenges even harder.
Pre-pandemic, seafarers worked on ships for nine months at a time, but now, crews cannot disembark due to quarantine restrictions, they are stuck aboard for two years at a time.
This means they are unable to purchase cheap phone cards, SIM cards or access inexpensive onshore communication equipment. There is no connectivity aboard most shipping which uses Port Kembla apart from satellite communications which is prohibitively expensive for crew to use.
Under the new initiative port officials hand the ship’s master a pelican case containing a high-tech ‘Cradlepoint’ WIFI kit specially developed by the Sydney Telstra Business Technology Centre to get seafarers online through their phones, tablets and computers.
“It’s very special when you see seafarers getting some face time with their families after months at sea, it’s pretty emotional to be honest,” says Bernie Farrelly from Seafarer Connect.
“It really is a case of plug and play. It’s fantastic seafarers moving coal, cars and grain through Port Kembla, now being able keep in contact with their loved ones.”
“This Friday the 25th is International Day of The Seafarer so it’s great to celebrate this initiative in Port Kembla at this time.
Port Authority’s Head of Operations, Port Kembla, Peter Ernst said it was great to connect people to home.
“Our industry in Port Kembla has rallied to make sure seafarers have access to WIFI for another 3 years,” Mr Ernst said,
“Seafarers face many hardships to deliver the products we depend on so we’re pleased to provide this simple but essential comfort in return – the ability to call home.”
A seafarer aboard the ‘Warnow Chief’ says he was able to watch his children play over FaceTime and attend the live streamed funeral of a loved one.
“Thanks so much for this service, it means so much,” he said.
At ports across the nation Seafarer Connect helps thousands of seafarers connect to home with each using roughly 2.6 Gigabits of data – enough for many hours of video calls to family, to browse news services from home and to