Volunteer ships visitors give seafaring family a lifeline

Hugh and Mary Ward, husband and wife volunteer ship visitors for a maritime welfare charity Stella Maris (formerly Apostleship of the Sea), have been greeting seafarers arriving into the busy Hartlepool and Teesport ports for six and four years respectively.

Their unique access to those who work on board for many months at a time, away from their home and their families, allows them to check-in with seafarers on board and address any welfare needs; and over time, Hugh and Mary have gotten to know seafarers on-board ships that come into the port regularly. They were overjoyed to learn that that Ronde Layson, one of the crew members from the Philippines, had just become a father to triplets. Ronde was thrilled to receive the exciting news from home.

The next time the ship came in, Ronde’s mood had changed. He seemed worried and Hugh and Mary knew that something was not right. They made sure they visited the ship each time it arrived, but it took a while for Ronde to open up about problems at home. As weeks went by, he looked more and more concerned.

Hugh and Mary learnt that the babies were born prematurely and needed urgent medical care. The family were unable to access free healthcare and hospital bills were increasing on a daily basis, reaching a total of over £8,000. Even after taking out loans and selling their house, they still didn’t have enough money to pay the bill.

Hugh and Mary shared Ronde’s story with the team at Hartlepool and Teesport and it was their intervention that led Stella Maris to raise funds to pay off the family’s outstanding debt.

‘Ronde just cried when he found out the news. We all cried. Now they could enjoy their new family’ says Mary. ‘Every time we speak to them, they can’t thank us and Stella Maris enough for being there in their time of desperate need.’ Stella Maris has a very special place in the hearts of the seafarer and his family and Hugh and Mary have become the triplets’ godparents.


Stella Maris is one of many Seafarers UK’s beneficiary charities. Stella Maris have a vast network of volunteer ship visiting teams providing spiritual and welfare support across the UK.

The chaplains and volunteers carry out 10,000 ship visits each year, creating meaningful relationships with seafarers, offering transport away from the ship, helping to reduce seafarers’ sense of isolation, whilst offering spiritual support or addressing any welfare needs.

In September 2019 Stella Maris’ team from Teesport and Hartlepool, led by port chaplain Deacon Peter Barrigan, won the Shoreside Team of the Year Award the Safety at Sea awards, held during the London International Shipping Week. The win is a great testimony to the good work that Peter and his team do.

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