Championing Seafarers: Mark Cameron on Ardmore’s charitable partnerships and global impact

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In this Q&A, we sit down with Mark Cameron to discuss Ardmore’s partnerships with charitable organizations and his recent appointment as an Ambassador to The Mission to Seafarers. With a long-standing commitment to supporting communities globally, Mark reflects on the challenges and successes faced by seafarers and the organizations that support them. He sheds light on the essential role of charitable initiatives in enhancing the well-being of those at sea, particularly in the post-pandemic world and amidst ongoing global conflicts.

  1. Can you tell us about Ardmore’s partnerships with charitable organisations?

Ardmore has a long-standing commitment to supporting a diverse array of charities globally, including those in regions where our seafarers live. We prioritize community-based organizations, ranging from orphanages and senior care homes to disaster recovery efforts and suicide awareness and prevention programs.

Recognizing the ever-changing needs of societies, we take a broad-based approach to our charitable initiatives. This involves not only providing financial support but also contributing our time and efforts to maximize our impact across a wide range of causes.

  1. Are there any success stories or memorable experiences you can share from your involvement with various charities?

I think we all get fulfilment from helping others, so times when you get to meet people face to face really makes a memorable impact on you as an individual. When we were in Mumbai a few years ago, post Covid, the team at Anglo Eastern took us to a project in the slums of Mumbai run by their Anavi charity. We took the children a Lego model of a ship that we thought would take them a week to build as a team project. They were so engaged with the initiative that they completed it in a day, I think! The older kids helped the younger kids, and it was just one of those heart touching moments – seeing future generations take simple pleasure in building something.

Who knows, maybe we inspired one of those kids to become a seafarer, and one day they will stand by a newbuilding and remember the Lego model that inspired their career journey.

  1. Can you tell us about your recent appointment as an Ambassador to Mission to Seafarers? What does this role entail and why is it important to you personally?

The Mission to Seafarers invited several senior shipping executives worldwide to become Ambassadors, urging us to dedicate our time and effort beyond occasional events. Through regular meetings, we assist the Mission in various ways, from fundraising and promotion to addressing specific regional challenges. By integrating the Mission’s initiatives into our daily business, we aim to bring practical, hands-on awareness to their vital work.

  1. How did your experience at Ardmore influence your decision to take on this ambassadorial role?

During COVID, we all experienced deep frustration over the treatment of seafarers – those onboard who couldn’t get home and those at home who couldn’t return to work. This period highlighted the need for industry-wide connection and coordination among charities supporting seafarers. This realization led to the creation of the Seafarers International Relief Fund (SIRF), which united various organizations to coordinate fundraising and manage funds collectively.

Through my involvement with these charities, I gained insight into their operations and recognized the potential to leverage my experience and network more effectively. Thus, when the Ambassador role was offered, I was eager to engage meaningfully and contribute to the cause.

  1. As a Mission to Seafarers Ambassador, what are your priorities or initiatives to raise awareness about the importance of supporting seafarers globally?

While there is a lot of coordinated effort globally, the landscape has changed significantly since I was at sea. Loneliness is now a much bigger issue than it was 40+ years ago. Although we can now discuss mental health more openly and without stigma, the challenges remain.

The Seafarer Happiness Index is a valuable tool that helps ship owners and managers identify where to focus their care and attention. It’s crucial to transform words into directed, thoughtful, and coordinated actions. This ensures we are not working in isolation as individual companies but leveraging the global shipping network to make a meaningful impact.

  1. In your opinion, what are the key challenges that seafarers face today, and what role do charitable organisations play in addressing these challenges?

Seafaring must be more than just a job; it should be a career choice driven by passion. If someone isn’t genuinely interested in a life at sea, they might need to consider other career paths. While that may sound entitled because many people go to sea to provide for extended families, this perspective comes from understanding the unique demands and realities of seafaring, such as long periods away from loved ones and the challenges families face in the absence of a spouse, parent, or child.

There are disparities among ship owners, leading to vastly different experiences for seafarers from one contract to another. It’s disheartening that some ship owners only pay lip service to the importance of a motivated workforce. Viewing seafarers’ welfare as a luxury sets a very low standard. As an industry, we need to do more to address these issues. Charitable organizations often witness these challenges firsthand and require our support to address them. It shouldn’t fall solely on them to rectify the industry’s shortcomings.

  1. In what ways can organizations like Ardmore collaborate with charities to improve the lives and well-being of seafarers?

Visibility and leading by example are crucial. By focusing on areas where we can leverage our skills and experience, we can make a meaningful impact. It’s important to concentrate our efforts rather than spreading ourselves too thin. We can’t address every issue, but by honing in on specific areas, we can excel and make a significant difference.

  1. Are effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting the work and welfare of seafarers, and how are charities responding to these challenges?

While we have largely moved on from COVID-19, the memories remain, especially for seafarers who didn’t have the luxury of working from home. The world seems to have forgotten the sacrifices and crucial role that shipping played during such a strange time. Today, the primary challenges are related to global conflicts, and the shipping industry faces the ongoing task of ensuring the safety of our seafarers.

  1. Looking ahead, what are your hopes and aspirations for the future of charity initiatives in the industry and their impact on maritime?

Looking forward, I envision a future where technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing the quality of life at sea through charity initiatives. However, there’s a concerning disparity between shipowners who invest in upgrading onboard communication systems and those who don’t, exacerbating the divide between the privileged and less privileged. While technology offers numerous benefits, it also introduces complexities and expands personal responsibilities, requiring careful consideration of both its positive and negative impacts.

I hope that charities remain effective in addressing the widening challenges faced by maritime communities without being overwhelmed. Given their reliance on funding, it’s crucial for traditional sources of support to recognize that charitable donations are essential, not optional, for the well-being of seafarers.

10. With Asian seafarers still making up a very substantial proportion of the global seafaring community, do you have a perspective on the importance of the presence of charities and support in the APAC region, such as India and the Philippines?

    Undoubtedly, these regions harbor the bulk of seafarers’ home-based needs. However, ships traverse oceans worldwide, often encountering needs in various geographical locations. While language barriers and cultural differences may arise, the shared identity of being seafarers, transcending race, religion, gender, and ethnicity, serves as our collective strength. I believe charities play a crucial role in bridging these differences with passion, dedication, and empathy, deserving our heartfelt appreciation.