On the 25th September the Irish Navy, the Irish Rangers, the Air Corps, the Customs and the Garda Siochana joined forces to arrest the MV Matthew as it entered Irish waters, despite repeated requests to alter it's course away from Ireland. Warning shots were then fired across the bows of the ship and a platoon of armed Irish Rangers were lowered from a helicopter on to the deck and control was taken of the vessel. A Pilot was put onboard and the ship was escorted into Cork Harbour and berthed in a remote quayside.
Armed Gardai went on board and a search of the vessel revealed 2,2523 kilos of Cocaine, with a street value of over 130 Million Euro hidden in a lifeboat.
The Gardai arrested the 5 of the senior officers and later an additional 3 were also detained. All mobile telephones were confiscated for forensic analysis. Leaving a crew of 13, made up of 12 Filipino and 1 Iranian detained on board the ship. Many of the crew were young and inexperienced seamen. Now cut off from the outside world and their families.
Within hours of the arrival of the ship in Cork and despite the presence of armed Gardai, Colin Jenkins, the Cork harbour chaplain for the Seafarers Christian Friend Society was allowed on board the ship where he discovered a very frightened crew who claimed that they had not been paid any wages for two months work and that they were without freshwater to drink and running low on basic provisions. Colin assured them of his support and prayed with them.
Next morning he arrived at the ship with a consignment of fresh water and much to the crew's delight a Mc Donald's meal for each of them. I joined him on the ship and liaised with the Senior Gardai officer in charge and gathered a shopping list of urgent supplies to maintain the crew on the ship. The Gardai officer on the ship was an experienced and understanding guy who appreciated our support to the remaining crew.
The following day Colin and I returned to the ship with fresh bread, Irish butter and packs of noodles and more freshwater. The crew were not allowed access to their mobile phones and we were were instructed not to use ours or permit the crew to use them. They really appreciated our support and shared their worries regarding their families and the fact that they were detained on the ship with no charges being made against them and no release date being provided. They were in fact being held prisoners on the ship.
Colin continued to visit the ship almost daily and I returned a few days later with a box of fresh fish, which I had caught, (Filipino's love fresh fish!). The crew has received a visit from the Filipino Consulate in Dublin and were told that efforts were being made to repatriate them.
However, when I visited the crew again I found them in a desperate state of anxiety and depression. They had still not been allowed to contact anyone and were fearful that they may not get re-employed as seafarers. I contacted the Filipino Consulate and informed them of the need to move swiftly as in my opinion desperate people do foolish things.
The crew were saying that they were literally penniless, having not been paid for two months and even if they were flown to their countries how could they travel home with no money.
The Seafarers' Christian Friend Society is a charity established to support seafarers in time of need and these guy were in desperate need. It was decided by the Trustees to open the Emergency Fund and grant each seafarer a gift of 100 euro to help them and to relieve some of the pressures they were under.
I prepared 13 separate envelopes containing 100 euro along with a short letter of support from the Trustees of the Society. I again visited the ship and the Gardai present told me that the crew were upset and depressed. I assembled all of them in the mess room and explained that the SCFS wanted to assist them. I then handed out the envelopes and together the crew opened them. It is difficult to describe their response other then to say they many tears were shed and many hugs received. To say that they were grateful would be a an understatement.
It was not just the matter of the money, it was that fact that someone cared enough to do something to help them in their hour of need. Upon leaving the ship that night I informed the Gardai of what had taken place. Their response was to ask; “Who are you people” My response was simply, we are the Seafarers Christian Friend Society and we CARE for Seafarers.
About one week later the crew were escorted off the ship to a local hotel prior to being flown home.
We have since then received a number of messages from the crew thanking us again for our support and care shown to them. Our response lies in the saying “what would Jesus do” we hope we have done as He would do.
Trustee for The Republic of Ireland, Cork
As a result of the SCFS Cork team's response to the seafarers plight, Colin and Charles were interviewed by RTE. You can hear their interview here: