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Merchant Navy Welfare Board: The UK maritime charity making a big impact

9 June 2021

Peter Tomlin, MBE MNWB chief executive

For over 70 years the hard-working trustees and staff of the Merchant Navy Welfare Board ('The Board'), has quietly and efficiently helped the UK maritime charity sector support the welfare of serving and retired seafarers, fishers and their families. The Board is a unique, secular and financially self-sufficient maritime charity that acts as the umbrella charity for the UK Merchant Navy & Fishing Fleets front-line charities.

The Board is not what you would call a conventional charity as its trustees, known as the Council of Management, consist of an equal number of shipowner and trade union nominated representatives including from Nautilus International, the same number elected by maritime charities, and specialist advisers including, importantly, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) who attend as observers. It is a board of trustees that truly represents the UK maritime sector.

'We have always been a low-profile organisation because much of what we do happens behind the scenes and is in support of the charities that provide critical front-line services,' MNWB chief executive Peter Tomlin MBE, said.

'Working closely with constituent member organisations and our 16 Port Welfare Committees (PWCs) we cover the entire UK coastline and Gibraltar. The MNWB brings the maritime welfare community together facilitating collaboration within this varied and complex sector. As such, we are in a unique position to share best practice and help promote, support, review and improve welfare provision to those in need whether serving or retired seafarers/fishers and their families or those international seafarers visiting our ports.'

MNWB stepped up at the very start of the pandemic and quickly brought the sector together, connecting government, shipowners, maritime trade unions, ports and maritime charities to form the Covid-19 Seafarers' Welfare working group. The group continues to meet on a regular basis connecting the front-line all the way through to government and acting as a catalyst for prompt and positive change.

The MNWB's contribution to seafarers' welfare recently received formal recognition with the signing of an agreement between the MCA and the MNWB. The MCA has designated the MNWB as the UK's National Seafarers' Welfare Board, in accordance with the ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 as amended.  

MNWB chairman Captain Andrew Cassels said: 'We were delighted the agreement recognises the important contributions made by the Board and our many constituent member organisations and voluntary Port Welfare Committees. This agreement brings maritime charity organisations closer to government, to share knowledge and make better use of resources, which has been of paramount importance in these unprecedented times.'

The Boards' recent management and funding of numerous welfare projects has included a seafarers' MiFi project in partnership with the Department for Transport and The Seafarers' Charity (formerly Seafarers UK). Other projects have included the funding of laptops for the education of seafarers' children during lockdown and support for the MCG Redundancy Retraining programme.

MNWB vice chair Mark Dickinson said: 'The Board has done some tremendous work over the years and demonstrated its relevance during the pandemic. It is therefore significant that the UK government has recognised this by formalising its role as a national seafarers' welfare board. Now the task is to make sure the UK continues to live up to its obligations under the MLC and Convention 188 to ensure the welfare of seafarers and fishers is continuously improved.'

To keep the sector moving forward in unison, ensuring connectivity, and avoiding unnecessary duplication of resources, the Board manages two working groups, which focus on older seafarers' and families, and serving seafarers. These working group provide a cross-sector forum to share best practice and encourage continual improvement. MNWB also administers the Merchant Navy Honours Consultative Committee that advises government on the award of the Merchant Navy Medal for Meritorious Service.

As the UK's National Seafarers' Welfare Board, MNWB will strive to help maintain the highest possible standards of seafarers' and fishers' welfare. Moreover, the Board shares its expertise and knowledge of welfare boards internationally. To that end, it manages the International Port Welfare Partnership programme, on behalf of ISWAN, to help countries and ports establish their own welfare boards (PWCs). This important programme, funded by the ITF Seafarers' Trust, The Seafarers' Charity, TK Foundation and MNWB, has the potential to improve welfare provision and transform the quality of seafarers' lives globally during their often-limited time in port.

The Board disburses all surplus funds through the award of grants to organisations to enhance welfare services around the UK, Gibraltar and more recently as far afield as the Falkland Islands. To ease access to charitable services in the sector, the Board created the Seafarer Support website www.seafarersupport.org. This unique, central point of contact, online search facility helps direct anybody looking for assistance directly to the maritime charity or charities best able to help the specific needs of the seafarer or fisher.

Supporting the highest standards across the sector is at the heart of the organisation. This is done, in part, by the provision of quality training programmes provided on-line, remotely, and locally to all constituent member organisations. The latest provision in its suite of training programmes is one that involves support for six constituent organisations and has provided over 260 completed online training courses in under two months.  


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