Catholic Vancouver Feb. 7, 2018

Seafarers chaplain prays for ship fire victims

By Agnieszka Ruck

Deacon Dileep Athaide (front row, left)  aboard a ship around Christmas in 2017. He recently visited the crew of a different ship, the MOL Prestige, two days before the ship's engine caught fire and stranded its crew in the Pacific. (Photos submitted)

VANCOUVER—It was a routine step aboard a ship that Deacon Dileep Athaide won’t easily forget. 

Two days before the MOL Prestige container ship blew its engine and became stranded off the coast of Haida Gwaii, the Catholic chaplain had been on board.

“I met most of the crew on the ship,” said Deacon Athaide, a Catholic chaplain and a member of the Apostleship of the Sea. He visits ships that arrive to Vancouver port and boards them to bless the crew and give rosaries to Catholic sailors.

That’s what he was doing on the MOL Prestige Jan. 29, just two days before the engine caught fire, injuring five sailors, two of whom had to be airlifted to hospital.

“I’m concerned for the crew,” said Deacon Athaide, whose unique role as a chaplain for sailors gives him access to hear and pray for their personal joys and difficulties. In fact, his routine step aboard the MOL Prestige was memorable for far more than its headline-grabbing demise two days later.

On Jan. 29, he met the captain and his wife “and by extreme coincidence” discovered it was their 40th wedding anniversary. Upon discovering they were Catholics, he blessed the pair and enjoyed a long conversation with them before their anticipated sailing to Tokyo, then Singapore.

He also met a crew member in his early twenties who told Deacon Athaide that he was very upset; he’d just received word that his six-year-old niece in India had been killed in a hit-and-run accident. He didn’t want to make the long trip to Singapore, hoping he could get off the ship early instead and grieve with his family back home.

“I told the young man that I would pray for him,” said the chaplain, who is also originally from India and could sympathize with the man’s family.

That evening, after Deacon Athaide stepped off, the 293-metre-long container ship sailed out of Vancouver, bound for Tokyo. Two days later, about 200 nautical miles from Haida Gwaii, the engine caught fire and the ship lost control.

“When a big ship like that loses its propulsion power, it can be very dangerous. If there’s bad weather, they have no guard against being pushed around and they could capsize.”

Deacon Athaide found himself praying for all 23 crew members, not just the young man, captain, and captain’s wife.

“I got this message that they were adrift in the Pacific!” Thankfully, it was reported that the crew was safe and, of five injured workers, only two had to be airlifted to hospital. A tugboat arrived Feb. 4 to slowly pull the MOL Prestige to shore and move containers to another ship.

Deacon Athaide said he hopes for the quick recovery of the five injured crew members and is grateful there were no fatalities. “There would have been so much more in the news if there was a fatality or if there was a big environmental impact or spill.”

The cause of the fire is still unknown.