Stella Maris is a home away from home

By Ella Gibson

Within the CBD is a refuge for an often-unseen group of people.

The Stella Maris centre, located at 600 Little Collins St, cares for the spiritual, social and material needs of seafaring individuals. The challenges that seafarers face while at sea often take a severe toll on their mental health, and experiencing severe loneliness, isolation and depression is common.

“They’re spending at least 80 per cent of their time on a ship at sea,” said Rom Kucera, who manages the centre.

“Quite often a seafarer might be grieving for a family member back home, they might be going through a difficult time themselves – depression and anxiety is something that they do live with,” Mr Kucera said.

At the centre, seafarers are provided with opportunities to contact their family and friends as well as use of the many facilities and services provided. Services include ship and hospital visitation, chapel, outdoor areas, telephones and international phone cards, WiFi, gift shop, milk bar, dance hall and accommodation.

In addition, the centre holds an abundance of information about the city itself. Buses are available from 11am, running throughout the day on demand until 10 at night.

“It’s really a bonus for those guys, to have a centre right in the heart of the city,” Mr Kucera said. “We’ve got a wonderful city to walk around and enjoy.”

The centre has about 24 volunteers who give their time fortnightly. They help out by serving at the shop or bar, driving buses, greeting the seafarers and familiarising them with the information and services available.

The care that they give ensures that relationships are built and often staff or volunteers will be in ongoing communication with seafarers. This means that return visits are emotional. “It’s like greeting an old friend that’s come to visit you,” Mr Kucera said.

Mr Kucera said he looked at the centre as an embassy for seafarers.

“I’d like Australians to know these places exist … so much of our goods come from overseas. It’s important that we look after the people that make that happen,” he said.

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