Seamen's Club: home away from home

Seamen's Club: home away from home

Auteur: Portnews | december 2014

To seafarers, the Seamen's Club in Terneuzen is a home away from home. A place where they can leave their work behind them for a moment, have a chat with like-minded people, and contact their home base in comfort. Yet, according to Erik Verhoef, board member at the Terneuzen Seamen's Club, the centre fulfils even more important purposes.

The employees and volunteers are dedicated to look after the well-being of all those people who are at sea for months on end, under difficult circumstances, and who are faced with unfamiliar situations in a foreign country. And they will help solve any problems these seafarers encounter. They are always welcome to call on us and we will help them wherever we can.

For example, some time ago we drove around the port with our van, to pick up people from their ships, when we noticed a small group of people enthusiastically waving at us. We thougt they wanted to join us for a game of cards at the club. But this was not the case. The crew were panicking because the stocks they had ordered had not arrived and in three hours' time they were due to leave for a twee weeks' journey. It was after closing time in Terneuzen, so we took them to a night shop in Zelzate. Everything with a long shelf life, such as cheese and dried sausage, was bought and loaded into the van. The shop was nearly out of stock! And the crew were visibly relieved.

Another example is when a typhoon had hit the Philippines. Because communication on board a ship is ofthen rather poor - crew do not have internet connections or mobile telephones - the Phillippine seafarers entering the centre hadn't a clue of what had happened. After having informed them, we took care of them, listened to their stories, and helped them contact their loved ones at home. In short, looking after their welfare comprises more than just having a drink with them at the bar. Leontine Verhoef is responsible for the day-to-day business at the centre. She tells about her job enthusiastically. It is nice work: highly diverse and very rewarding. People who have had a rough time at sea are given the opportunity to recover in a relaxing atmosphere. And when they leave, with a big smile on their faces, I know we have done our job well. Many of them will return. And no mather how many months are in-between, they greet us like old friends. One time, I taugth some people from the Philippines how to play at shuffleboard, a typically Dutch pastime. They had become so fanatic that they made their own shuffleboard to take with them. They sent me a series of happy photographs afterwards. We also look after very practical matters. We have internet connections and sell phone cards. And we have a clothing rack filled with warm clothing. After all, seafarers from the Far East are often unprepared for the European cold. They are able to obtain an winter coat here. Our guest are also able to exchange their dollars for Euros - since the banks in Terneuzen no longer do so.

Each month, our employees and volunteers receive some three hundred people in the club building. This number could be increased, Erik Verhoef told us. Because of the many security measures, crew members often find that our pick-up service is the only way for them to disembark from their ship. We now pick up people who call us. But we would much rather call on every ship and invite her crew to come and join us. But we need more people and extra transport means - which is a problem in these days. We depend on subsidies from Zeeland Seaports and the municipality of Terneuzen, as well as donations from people who want to support our work. For example, Multraship Towage & Salvage is paying for our accommodations, and Terneuzen Port Service is sending people to come and help. It is not easy to reaise more money. That is because not many people are familiar with our work. Some may think we are merely a cafe, when, in fact this is not our core activity. Crew members are no longer just looking for entertainment - the romance has long since worn off. They just want to leave their ships for a short while, contact their loved ones at home, and forget their loneliness for a while. To promote our activities, we are organising a maritime get-together in our club every first Thursday of the month, often with a speaker. Anybody who has anything to do with the port, is welcome to come and join us, Erik Verhoef said. Leontine Verhoef: With a few extras, we would once again be able to organise an attractive Christmas gathering. Every year, we want to do something special for seafarers who are forced to spend the holidays in a foreign port. In 2013, for example, the Rotary contributed with a large turkey. Twenty-four people joined us at the table. And if you count those on Skype, you can double this number. Though, of course, they did not eat any of the fowl...