Laura Chubb recently posted this article in Time Out Dubai:
Six miles off the coast of Fujairah lies another world. There are ships as far as the eye can see; hundreds of them, stationary on the water. Some are waiting to come into port with goods, some are waiting for supplies to come to them. Others are bunker vessels – floating petrol stations supplying fuel to the surrounding boats.
The men who work on these ships rarely get to shore – they are stranded out here for months at a time. But for the past two and a half years there has been one place they can go to get away for a change of scenery and some fresh conversation, and that’s The Flying Angel. Run by the UAE branch of Mission to Seafarers – an international organisation operating in 230 ports across the globe – The Flying Angel is the first support boat of its kind in the world. With a crew working seven days a week during daylight hours, it glides into the workers’ quiet isolation so they can climb aboard and make use of its facilities. There is a library, a shop, telephone and internet connection, and a counsellor on hand for those who need support.
It’s a typically sweltering hot summer day when I climb aboard. And when the first sea- farers of the day enter the cabin, there is a gasp of relief as they meet the air-conditioning. The bunker boat they’ve been working on for the past eight months has a broken AC unit. Isham, a 25-year-old seafarer from Ghana, will have been on that boat for a year before he goes home. The most difficult part is missing his family: ‘It gets me crazy,’ he says.
Isham and his friend Theophilus, also from Ghana, went to maritime college and both hope to be captains some day. For now, they work six-hour shifts on the bunker: six hours working, six hours spare time, and then six hours working again. That’s how their days go. There’s not much to do on the bunker: they can’t swim off the boat because it’s too dangerous, and there isn’t much room to play sport or do exercise. Mostly, they watch films and play video games. What would it be like if they didn’t have The Flying Angel to escape to? ‘It would be very bad,’ says Isham. ‘It would be impossible.’
Probably the most valuable service The Flying Angel provides is the telephone and internet connection. It allows these men contact with home, a place that must seem impossibly far from here. But it’s obvious that just having new people to chat to makes all the difference. Every seafarer that comes aboard today is eager to talk. They’re interested in me and where I’m from. They’re also pleased that I’m interested in them. (one of them has just sailed from Madagascar, where he lived in constant fear of pirate raids). Isham and Theophilus invite me onto their bunker and show me around. It’s incredibly hot, and after mere minutes we’re all soaked in sweat. They show me the kitchen and the common room, and I meet the captain. Everyone is welcoming and polite. It’s a different kind of day for all of us.
Ships bring an astonishing 99.3 per cent of all goods to the UAE: necessities, luxuries, and comforts. Practically everything you buy will have come here by ship. And these vessels need fuel, which is why the east coast of Fujairah is the second largest bunker anchorage in the world, with 100-150 ships anchored offshore at any given time. Without the work of these men, we’d be without the things that make our everyday… everyday. We should help them get through their days, too.
The Flying Angel needs your donations: DVDs, books, magazines, toiletries. It also needs your time: simple things like cataloguing the onboard library, organising fundraising events, graphic designers and printers to help advertise fundraising events, volunteers to go out on the boat and talk to the seafarers and people with counselling experience. For more, see Angel Appeal.
Laura Chubb, Charity in Dubai, Time Out Dubai, 24 August 2009
On Related Sites
Stop Off for the Finest Dates in All of Arabia on Your Way to Fujairah, Experiencing the Emirates, 6 September 2009.
Coming Second or Losing in the America’s Cup, America’s Cup in the UAE, 4 September 2009.
Dr Geoff Pound
Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at)gmail.com on Facebook and Twitter.
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Image: The Flying Angel (photo and story courtesy Time Out Dubai and Stephen Miller, Mission to Seafarers).