FOR the communities which draw their livelihood from Scotland’s forbidding seas, the Fishermen’s Mission has been a steadying anchor for more than 130 years.
And with tragedy and danger continuing to blight the fishing industry, the Fishermen’s Mission believes its work is as relevant now as it was in the late 1800s when the first staff set sail to deliver food, compassion and the gospel to Scotland’s fishing crews.
The reach of its work is today as broad as it is deep, with the charity helping not only the men at sea but the families of those employed in what the mission describes as the ‘most dangerous peacetime occupation’.
Mission staff may be called upon to visit hospital to offer dry clothes and a comforting word to a fisherman brought to safety in a strange port.
Or it could well help financially support a fisherman’s family dealing with the worst of times, such as a bereavement or poor health.
The mission will routinely bless a new boat ahead of its maiden voyage.
And should the unbearable happen and a fisherman not return home from sea, the mission, which has a strong Christian ethos, may also be called upon by the family to lead the funeral of those who have gone.
Senior superintendent Aubrey Jamieson is the Fishermen’s Mission top man in Scotland and is based in Lerwick, Shetland, home of one of the country’s largest active fleets.
He is all too aware of the pain felt on the quayside when a fisherman loses a life at his work.
“The sea is a source of life and it brings your livelihood but sometimes, tragically, it is also a source of death,” Mr Jamieson said. “Fishing communities brace themselves for that but every time it happens it hits hard.
“It can also open old wounds for people, for people who have lost someone before
“So while the sea indeed is a source of life, there is a difficult side to that and people in the fishing communities look to us when they are at their most vulnerable,” he added.
Mr Jamieson was called to Stornoway followed the sinking of the crab boat MFV Louisa off Mingulay last month.
Chris Morrison, 27, from Harris and Martin Johnstone, 29, from Caithness died in the tragedy with skipper Paul Alliston, 42, from Lewis, still missing. A fourth man, Lachlann Armstrong, 27, managed to swim ashore.
“You just knew that the island was really feeling it. You can sense it, that pain,” Mr Jamieson said.
He added: “It is a situation you don’t want to be in. You hope it never happens - but very sadly it does.
“There is very much a place for our caring role today. Fishing is said to be the most dangerous peacetime occupation and one that is 115 times more dangerous than the average job. That is a massive statistic.”
The welfare of retired fishermen and their families is another key aspect of the mission’s work, particularly in ports that no longer have an active fishing fleet, such as Aberdeen.
One fishing widow in the city benefitted from the work of the mission for more than 30 years after losing her children in a house fire while the charity stepped in to help a retired skipper after he took on the care of his grandchildren given his daughter’s ill health.
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The Fishermen’s Mission is active in 14 towns across Scotland from Kintyre and Mallaig in the west to Stornoway, Lerwick and Kirkwall in the north to Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Pittenweem in the east.
Across the UK, the charity, which also helps fisherwomen if requested, had an income of more than £3.6m last year with the organisation also helping those facing hardship to access welfare funds.
Mr Jamieson said: “People in these communities, they look to you. And the next time something goes wrong, they turn back to you.”
One supporter is restauranteur Roy Brett, of Ondine in Edinburgh, who held a fundraising lunch at the weekend. His efforts began after working with Rick Stein in Padstow, Cornwall, where he spent time with the local fishermen.
Mr Brett said: “I remember one of the men talking about losing his brother and that moment he knew he wasn’t coming home, when he saw his car parked at the harbour but the boat hadn’t come back.
“It stopped me in my tracks. It made me realise the perils of what these guys do.”