The Seafarers’ House in San Juan is celebrating its 20th anniversary to be marked with festivities on November 4.
The initiators of the Seafarers’ House were the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union (NSU) and the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, explained Sharon A. Joubert Bernard, manager.
“Recognizing the need for seafarers to have a network of personal support in prominent port states, it was Johan Oyen, director of cruise operations for NSU, who had the vision to purchase and restore a building in Old San Juan for this purpose,” she said. “The NSU already had points of contact with seafarers in other important cities for the cruise industry, including Miami and Bali. Old Suan Juan was a logical addition to the network as it was quickly becoming a major cruise port and the piers were located within walking distance.”
Today, the welfare center and its services, with a staff of seven, are funded and guided solely by the NSU through a local corporation.
Home Away from Home
“As our motto says, and that has not changed and will not change as we go forward,” Joubert Bernard said, “Seafarers House San Juan’s main goal has always been to be a home away from home for seafarers.
“Since its inception, we have strived to be a place where seafarers can relax during their time off and away from their work environment.”
Crew has access to free Wi-Fi, as well as computers and phone services, and a mini-market so they can stock up on personal items. Additionally, there is a package service, where seafarers can retrieve their online orders at the center at no extra cost.
“We also provide information on such important topics as mental health, AIDS and cancer. To help raise awareness of these issues, we prepare activities in the center and on ship visits,” Joubert Bernard added.
The vision for the project began in 1997, Joubert Bernard said, but the true milestone materialized when the building was purchased in 2000 and restored between that time and 2003.
Located in Plaza Colon, the property is at the entrance to the Old City.
Originally built before the turn of the 19th century, restoration had to follow strict historical conservation guidelines, and has since withstood the test of time, hurricanes and earthquakes.
Validating the Seafarers’ House contribution is the fact that over the years it has welcomed more than 250,000 visitors, Joubert Bernard said.
“Seafarers’ free time ashore is limited, which is another reason why we strive to bring our services to where the seafarers are and are doing our best to visit as many ships as possible while they are in port here in San Juan,” Joubert Bernard said.
“When we visit ships, we do so both as representatives of the NSU and the Seafarers’ House. We provide promotional content so that seafarers are made aware of our center and are encouraged to visit and take advantage of our services. As NSU representatives we can discuss NSU matters and answer any doubts, questions or complaints they may have. We also relay concerns to the union in case they may need additional assistance.”
The facility is open to all seafarers whether they are from cruise ships, cargo ships, or training and school ships.
“The NSU’s main goal in operating the center and all the services available to seafarers is for them to know that the union is committed to their welfare and to upholding their employment rights,” Joubert Bernard said. “They certainly work hard and are the motor behind the cruise industry. We notice that seafaring is a career full of personal sacrifices where workers work many months away from their family and loved ones. In return, Seafarers’ House San Juan is a small home away from home in Old San Juan.”