Solace for sailors


Chaplain Andy Krey has been to Montenegro, Croatia and the Philippines.

He has, in fact, been all over the globe. But these three locations stand out in his quest to minister to the tens of thousands of seafarers who come into port in Savannah every year.

“We get a lot of mariners from those countries,” Krey said recently. “When I can tell them I’ve been to their homeports, show them pictures of landmarks or maybe greet them in their native language, we have an instant bond.”

An instant bond is extremely helpful when operating in Krey’s tight time constraints.

In partnership with Bible Lutheran Church in Rincon, the Rotary Club of Savannah West and a dedicated core of volunteers, Krey’s maritime ministry provides counseling and support to seafarers who come into port on the big ships, most of them here for only six to 12 hours.

In that small window of time, the vast majority are looking for three things, Krey said.

“The first thing they want is just to get off the ship for a few hours, to get their feet on solid ground.

“The second thing they want is a way to connect with loved ones back home, either through phone calls or e-mail.

“Finally, they want someone to pray with them, to bless them and to listen to their worries and concerns – whether it’s a sick relative back home, a situation on the ship or a harrowing experience traveling through pirate-infested waters.”

To help meet those needs, the ministry has established a Bethel just outside the gates of Garden City Terminal that can serve as a sanctuary for those few hours away from the ship.

Located on Main Street in Garden City, just behind the ILA Local 2046, the Maritime Bethel at Savannah is a cozy, three-bedroom frame house equipped with desks, computers with free Internet and British-style private “phone booths” designed to accommodate international calls.

It’s all meant to help the seafarers reconnect with home while providing a brief respite from sea duties.

Access to the house is available 24/7.

“Seafarers are generally very busy when they are in port, so the Bethel conforms to their schedules,” Krey said. “Because about 60 percent of our seafarers are Asian, our phones and computers are often busiest between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.,” Krey said. “Midnight in Savannah is lunchtime in Manila.”

From prayers to piracy

“Bethel means ‘House of God,’ and we are a faith-based nonprofit providing a holistic ministry that includes advocacy, spiritual, physical and emotional support,” Krey said.

Krey often visits the ships in port, offering spiritual counseling, Bible studies, Holy Communion or any other service that might be requested.

“Most crew members come from developing nations — nations to which American Christians traditionally send missionaries,” he said. “In port ministry, God brings them to us. So, instead of sending missionaries to them, we can send them home with the gospel message.”

But Krey’s mission is about more than sharing the gospel message.

He also provides a comforting sounding board for sailors far from home and facing often stressful situations.

“It’s never easy to be confined to a relatively small area with the same 20 or 21 people for months at a time,” he said.

But a seafarer’s two greatest fears?

“Storms at sea and pirates,” Krey said. “And not necessarily in that order.”

At last count, 429 seafarers were being held hostage by pirates, mostly from Somalia, Venezuela and India, he said.

“When a ship must pass through pirate-infested waters, no one sleeps, everyone is on watch. It’s a stressful 36-to-42 hours that leaves everyone on edge.”

Krey recalled visiting a tanker in port in Savannah that couldn’t be boarded because the entire ship was edged in barbed-and-razored concertina wire designed to prevent pirates from getting onboard.

Several years ago, during the pirate crisis involving the Maersk Alabama, a Ukrainian mariner in port told Krey he had been held captive by Somali pirates for three weeks before his company paid a ransom for his return.

“He asked to be taken to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist to pray for the safe return of the Alabama’s captain.”

There are actually more pirates at sea today than there were 100 years ago, Krey said, adding that one Savannah landmark popular with tourists rarely sees a visiting seaman.

“They shy away from the Pirates’ House,” he said. “They don’t understand why we glorify the image of sea raiders, and they find it all a little scary.”

A mini-break

The organization has several vans, allowing its volunteers to meet the ships and provide free transportation and escort to the Bethel, doctor’s appointments and shopping.

A favorite shopping spot is Best Buy, where the Bethel has a member card and seafarers can purchase laptops and other items at a discount.

“We’re one of the very few ports close enough to shopping areas to allow them to do this within their time limits,” said Bethel volunteer Benjamin Tablada.

Last week, Captain Rito Mahayahay from the K Line container vessel Suez Canal Bridge was in port with several of his crew. They stopped by the Bethel with Tablada to drop off a crew member who wanted to use the computer before heading to Best Buy and Oglethorpe Mall, where Mahayahay was hoping to find a treadmill and other fitness equipment for the ship.

If time permitted, they also hoped to stop for a bite at Golden Corral, another seafarer favorite.

The search for fitness equipment points up a new concern for Krey and other Bethels — growing obesity among crew members at sea.

“There was a time when crew could come off a ship and go for a run around the terminal,” Krey said. “But security issues have made that impossible in the last decade. “Now, crews can’t go more than five meters from the ship without an escort. And, because some crews aren’t allowed off their ships at all, we’re seeing an increase in health issues.”

The Center for Seafarers Rights at the Port of New York is working on developing an international identification card for seafarers as a way to allow them more access to shore leave, Krey said.

In the meantime, he and others have put together a “Holistic Health at Sea” program to combat the inactivity that comes from confined spaces.

Needed: volunteers and money

The Bethel is always in need of short-term volunteers willing to donate anywhere from two full weeks to a few months, Krey said. Volunteers must attend a 16-hour course — and pass a test — given by the International Committee on Seafarers Welfare.

Because they enter restricted Georgia Ports Authority property, volunteers must also have a Homeland Security-mandated Transportation Workers Identification Credential.

It’s important to have a missionary heart, Krey said, along with the ability to climb stairs and work in a fast-paced industrial setting.

On the financial side, the Bethel welcomes help with rent, utilities, loan payments on its vehicles, help for international phone lines and Internet service or donations toward prepaid phone cards.

For more information on ways to help, e-mail Krey at or call 912-826-0206.


To help others learn more about maritime connections, the Rotary Club of Savannah West, a partner of the Maritime Bethel at Savannah, will host a Maritime Day Luncheon from noon to 1:30 p.m. May 22 in the Harborside Room at the Hyatt Regency Savannah. Cost is $20 person and the reservation deadline is May 18. To respond or learn more, call 912-826-0206.


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