Tech helps seafarers in Geraldton feel closer to home

Headshot of Lisa Favazzo
Lisa FavazzoGeraldton Guardian
Ships docked and at Geraldton Port and a seafarer receiving a cradlepoint from port official Phil Turner.
Camera IconShips docked and at Geraldton Port and a seafarer receiving a cradlepoint from port official Phil Turner. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

The expanses of the ocean, COVID-19 restrictions and poor internet connectivity are separating seafarers from their loved ones. But thanks to a recent innovation, crews docked in Geraldton are one step closer to home.

A high-tech and specially designed wi-fi “cradlepoint” arrived in Geraldton in late April.

It’s in place just in time for International Day of the Seafarer, which falls today. Ships docked in the port city — and around the world — will honk their horns at noon in solidarity with the crews who spend much time away from family and friends.

The technology, designed by the Sydney Telstra Business Technology Centre, is passed from port officials to the ship’s master in a watertight case, allowing the crew to get online and make contact with their friends and family back home.

For one unnamed seafarer aboard the container ship the Warnow Chief, it meant playing with his children and attending a live streamed funeral.

“Thank you so much for this service. It means so much,” he said. Seafarers usually spend about nine months at a time away from home, but the pandemic has made crew changes challenging, and some can be stuck on board for years at a time.

A 2019 Yale University study — before the pandemic — found seafarers suffered from high levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

According to Maritime Industry Australia Limited, the pandemic-related “crew change crisis” affects 200,000 seafarers.

Bernie Farrelly, project manager for Seafarer Connect, the group behind the push to get seafarers online, said: “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.”

“It really is a case of plug and play. It’s fantastic seafarers moving Australian iron ore, grains and mineral sands through Geraldton Port can now keep in contact with their loved ones.”

Mid West Ports Authority acting chief executive Damien Tully said: “It’s been great to be part of an initiative which keeps people a bit closer to home.

“It is very rewarding to be involved in providing wi-fi to these seafarers, who are often at sea for months at a time. Such a simple solution which is providing considerable benefit.”

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