The Department for Transport, Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB) and The Seafarers' Charity have agreed to fund a second year of a collaborative UK Port Welfare MiFi Partnership Project for seafarers and fishers.
MNWB CEO Peter Tomlin welcomed the further year's funding which began on 29 July 2021: 'The MiFi project supports the work of front-line welfare societies who visit ships and provide a communications lifeline to many seafarers and fishers in ports around the United Kingdom.'
The project − which started in 2019 − is managed by the MNWB and aims to provide seafarers on ships visiting UK ports with access to free internet to connect with their families and friends.
While the MiFi pilot project was due to finish in May 2020, the ITF Seafarers' Trust first agreed to extend the project by a further 3 months to help during the Covid-19 pandemic. Then in July 2020 the Department for Transport, MNWB and Seafarers UK agreed to the project's first extension.
'We are delighted that the Department for Transport, The Seafarers’ Charity and MNWB have awarded funds to support the continuation of this valuable project, which continues to make a positive impact during the ongoing pandemic,' added Mr Tomlin.
In total 40 MiFi units have been deployed throughout the UK to eight Maritime Welfare Charities (MWCs).
Unlike last year, where a monthly data allowance of either 50 or 60GB was assigned to the units, this year the allowance of all the connections is to be increased to unlimited – meaning crew can download and stream without exceeding the monthly allowance.
Towards the end of the first year of the project, a survey of participants showed that notwithstanding ship visiting difficulties in a pandemic, visiting seafarers have highly valued the use of MiFi devices. Up to 81% of respondents indicated there would be a negative impact on seafarer welfare if they were no longer able to access the MiFi service.
I love to see the seafarers' joy when they can contact their families by means of the free router service. There are still many ships where internet is not available to the crew, who are therefore incredibly grateful for this generous facility Peter Donald, port chaplain, Sailors' Society, Montrose
The 'lifeline' aspect of the MiFi for many visiting seafarers and fishers to the UK was highlighted by Stella Maris, one of the MWCs which has received the MiFi units. Its chief executive officer Martin Foley said: 'Stella Maris chaplains have found the MiFi units to be of immense benefit to the crews we visit.'
One chaplain reported hearing a seafarer chatting to his wife and little daughter 'and the sound of the child's laughter could be heard all around the messroom,' said Mr Foley. 'Everyone was smiling at the sound of their enjoyment. It perfectly captured the precious benefit of these units in bringing families together despite the distance between them.'