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by Msgr. John ARMITAGE (AOS-GB)




We would like to share with you something of the world of the cruise industry and also the ministry of AOS in that sector and plans for the future. 

There are three parts to this presentation

Firstly, an overview of the cruise industry

Secondly, we’d then like to outline the content and structure of AOS cruise chaplaincy, with particular reference to ministry out of Great Britain and Italy. We also refer to the communities onboard we are seeking to serve and how this is currently achieved

Thirdly we would like to brief plans for the future, looking particularly at the reports and recommendations of the AOS Cruise Ship meeting which was held in October 2005 in Dunkerque. These particular papers being on Onboard leadership & the code of conduct for chaplains. We also would like to look briefly as well as plans for engaging with the industry & training.

Lastly we’ll survey who is involved which hopefully will set the scene for an open discussion. 

Firstly we’d like to give a brief overview of the cruise industry, to locate AOS’s ministry within it.

The first trips on passenger ships, sold as cruises, started in the 1880’s with trips to the Mediterranean and the Norwegian fjords. These were only for the very wealthy and just a supplement to regular port to port passenger services.

Whilst priests have sailed for centuries on all sorts of vessels, exercising their ministry, it was particularly at the beginning of the last century on the increasing number of liners that this particular seagoing ministry began to take it’s unique shape.  It was not until after the second world war that cruise ships per sé developed with the establishment of Norwegian Caribbean Lines and their regular short cruises to the Caribbean.  These ships were small by today’s standard with 400 – 900 passengers and 300 – 400 crew.

Today the industry is essentially controlled by three major groups and a number of smaller independent companies.

The major player today is the Carnival Corporation whose group includes familiar names such as Cunard, Costa Crociere and P&O Cruises.

The cruise industry is the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry. It has an exceptionally high growth rate within the entire leisure market. Since 1980, the industry has had an average annual passenger growth rate of 8.1% per annum. (source: CLIA)

1.8 million passengers will travel with carnival alone this year (source: Carnival).

More than 90 million people have been on a cruise ship over the past two decades.

Cruise ships visit – literally – all corners of the earth, calling at more than 1,800 ports worldwide.

To meet the expected consumer demand, cruise lines added 68 new ships to their fleets between 2000 and the end of 2005, with more to follow, with 30 more ships currently on order (Lloyds May 2006).

The predominant countries offering flags of registry for cruise vessels are the United Kingdom, Liberia, Panama, Norway, Netherlands, Bahamas and the United States.

One of the dominant concerns both of governments and cruise companies is the environmental impact of cruise lines, comparatively little attention is paid to crew welfare. 

What is the future for the cruise industry…

Firstly there are some clouds on the horizon, namely ship building costs & rapidly increasing fuel costs. Of worry to the cruise lines, but also to us, another economic pressure on a vessel will inevitably put pressure at all levels in the vessel to perform to higher decrees at lower costs. 

The major predicted change in the industry is vessel size. Whilst some small cruise ships will continue to be built, the size of the average cruise ship will increase substantially as the lower capacity tonnage built prior to 1990, is gradually replaced by mega cruise ships. There are unconfirmed reports that Carnival’s Pinnacle ships will be 380m long and carry up to 8,000 passengers and crew

This not only has many implications for ports and destinations, but also for AOS’s ministry to those on these ships.

Despite pressures caused by changing world events outside its control including: Wars, Economic downturns, Health scares, Terrorist attacks, Natural disasters and Rising prices, the industry remains strong. 

We’d first like to outline the continuing need for cruise chaplaincy and then to look in more depth at the content and structure of AOS cruise chaplaincy, referring to the 3 communities onboard we are seeking to serve and how this is achieved through some core models of ministry.

Why does AOS engage in cruise ministry?

The cruise industry itself estimates that it now carries some 14 million passengers a year, with at least 9 ships being launched annually since 2001. All indicators suggest this growth in the number of people taking a cruise will continue.

There are about two hundred thousand crew who are at service in this this industry, who suffer many of the same stresses and strains of others at sea however in the cruise sector, crew are also bearing an increasing burden in the cruise industry’s drive for profit. 

In 1980, the industry average was AT LEAST one member of staff for every passenger.

This ratio is now, on average one crewmember for every three passengers. While achieving a massive saving for the lines it also makes for a proportional workload for the crew, a massive increase in stress and strain. The average working day onboard a cruise ship is now in excess of 12 hours, and in some cases this rises to 18 hours.

There remain far too many cases of discrimination and harassment and other injustices that are often hushed up. The Apostleship of the Sea has a long and well-respected record of service to all seafarers. This ministry as well as being Port based, also has a well established history of sea going chaplains, ranging from full time in some Cruise ships to part time and seasonal provision of Chaplains for other cruise lines  

We’d now like to look at the pastoral and welfare work of the chaplain on board. 

It is crucial to appreciate that the chaplain has a FOCUS ON THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY ON THE SHIP both the passengers and the crew with no distinction of religion, culture or race: 

The chaplain is a spiritual man, a guide, and all can address him for personal help. He exercises a social role, universally recognized, of spiritual leader, in the particular social environment of the ship. He exercises a missionary work of presence of the Church and the preaching of Jesus’ Gospel among all.

Obviously however, there are two distinct communities on board that the chaplain serves:            

A. the passengers           

B.  the crew

In each community the chaplain has a different role  



– A presence on board as a prophetic sign, as the man of God, as a holy man


Ministry of evangelization


Teacher of a Message of a New Humanity renewed in Christ


Spiritual and psychological counseling, listening and advice, in personal and family matters.



– A presence on board as a prophetic sign, as the man of God, as a holy man.

Ministry of evangelization

– Teacher of a Message of a New Humanity renewed in Christ                       

– Spiritual and psychological counseling, listening and advice during work and free time           

– Assistance and support in sickness                       

– Recreational activities, parties and sport 

– Mail services, distribution of movies, books, service of safe boxes for crew-members.

Action TOWARDS THE COMMUNITY OF THE  BAPTIZED, who refer to chaplain as their proper pastor  



· mostly the celebration of the sacraments (especially holy mass and sometimes confession)

· the renewal of marriage wows

· spiritual counseling in religious matters


· here the Chaplain exercises the role of the pastor with proper duties fixed by the Motu Proprio Stella maris (i.e celebrating the sacraments, especially the rite of Confirmation, with special faculties for absolution)

· he exercises the Tria Munera  of governance, teaching and sanctification

· he promotes the sense of Sunday and celebrates the Eucharist and sacrament of Penance.

· he prepares for Confirmation and Weddings

· he celebrates baptism and the Confirmation of adults.

· he has Leadership in Group prayer

· he gives Spiritual counseling

· he has an Ecumenical spirit of dialogue and prayer with non Roman Catholic Christians

· he forms lay leaders among the crew.

· he provides support with religious material (books of prayer and meditation,  rosaries,  sacred images, etc.) 

AOS chaplains operate out of four main countries

Great Britain, Italy, USA and Spain

Great Britain has agreements with a small number of cruise companies: Cunard, P&O, Swan Hellinic and just this year Saga.  AOS in Great Britain aims to deploy a regular team of chaplains to minister on the same cruise ship providing continuity of care for the crew.  ‘The crew get to know the chaplains and the chaplains get to know the crew.’  In 2006 chaplains provided a total of 88 weeks of chaplaincy.

Chaplains operating out of Italy follow a slightly different model.

The Italian company Costa Crociere has a long tradition of cruise chaplaincy, which began with the chaplains who accompanied Italian emigrants to the Americas.  Today the chaplain position is titled ‘Crew Welfare Officer’, in addition to pastoral care the chaplain is in charge of crew welfare and is the president of the  onboard welfare committee and organizes leisure activities for the crew,  with the help of other chiefs of departments. AOS Italy has 10  full-time chaplains serving 11 ships, working an average  of 9 months  a year (serving contracts of 5 or 6  months) , with 20 part time chaplains working shorter periods (serving not less then 2 months). 

AOS Italy provides cruise chaplains for:           

– Costa Crociere all year round, on 11 ships.         

– MSC cruises Christmas and Easter.           

– other Cruise Lines on request.

AOS in Spain has developed a cruise ministry programme since 2003.  At present there are 16 chaplains on board a small number of vessels 35 weeks of the year.  Companies are slowly seeing the benefits to crew as well as passengers, the chaplains operating out of Spain also have access to the Centre for Seafarers’ Rights in Barcelona.

In addition to chaplains being supplied and monitored by this national AOS bodies, cruise vessels also calling at the following countries, receive ship visits and pastoral care in the following countries by AOS Port Chaplains and ship visitors: Poland (Gdynia), France (Marseille) and Hong Kong. Countries supplying chaplains also provide port based support for cruise crew calling at their ports.

Thirdly we would like to brief plans for the future.

Our particular focus is the taking forward of the reports and recommendations of the AOS Cruise Ship meeting which was held in October 2005 in Dunkerque. These particular papers being on Onboard leadership & the code of conduct for chaplains, as well as plans for engaging with the industry & training.  

We’d like to outline some of the core elements of the Onboard Christian Leadership paper, which I hope you’ve had an opportunity to see. 

The men and women who exercise a leadership role on board, are the foundation of the AOS and the key people for the chaplains to contact, work with and support, both in port and at sea. This role can add isolation and stress to a life already facing many pressures and challenges. It is one of the prime aims of the Chaplain to support Onboard Lay Leadership whether accredited or unofficial.

The Motu Proprio “Stella Maris” tells us: 

“The chaplain of the Apostleship of the Sea must identify those who show leadership qualities among the local or transient maritime personnel and help them deepen their Christian faith, the commitment to Christ and their aptitude for creating and guiding a Christian community on board” Art IV 4

2.  “The chaplain of the Apostleship of the Sea must identify those maritime personnel who have a special devotion to the  Blessed Sacrament and train them so that they can be made extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist by the competent authority and be able to exercise this ministry with dignity, especially on their ships” Art IV 5.

To enable us to really establish Onboard Christian Leadership we need to have the following in place:

1  Accreditation

– By AOS national or origin or by ship registration or main port assuage.

– Reference from parish priest or equivalent

– Interview by Port Chaplain.

– Satisfactory completion of local or distance learning course.

– Inclusion in AOS Directory of Lay Leadership.  

2  Support

– Privileged access to Internet for para-liturgical services.

– Support from Port and seagoing chaplains.

– Access to AOS materials.

– Advice and support on issues arising on board over the Internet with AOS chaplain.


3  Training

– Local or distance training in Lay Leadership.

– Distance learning on scripture, prayer, sacraments, theology and catechises.

Moving on to the Code of Practice for Ministry at Sea (Cruise Ships) 1 “The chaplain of the Work of the Maritime Apostolate who is appointed by the competent authority to exercise his ministry on board a ship during a voyage is obliged to offer spiritual assistance to all who are making the voyage, whether by sea, lake or river, from the start of the trip until its conclusion”.

II 22 “The chaplains and the authorities of the Work of the Maritime Apostolate will strive to see that the people of the sea are provided abundantly with whatever is required to lead holy lives; they will also recognise and promote the mission which all the faithful – and in particular the laity – are called to exercise in the Church and in the maritime world in accordance with their specific state”. VII 1

1 Aim

The aim of the Code is to communicate and clarify the specific ministry of sea-going priests in order to create a code of best practice for our priests and an assurance of such practice to the Cruise industry.

2  Sea Going Chaplaincy


The celebration of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation.           

Renewal of marriage vows (Passengers).          

Preparation for marriage (Crew).           

Pastoral counselling.


The support of Onboard Lay Leadership.


The provision of an independent listener to the whole crew.

Liaising with the onboard authorities in an agreed manner in addressing welfare issues when appropriate.           

Links with international maritime missions and welfare agencies.



A ministry of presence to passengers and crew, being available to people in recreation, in the mess rooms and restaurants.

3  Accreditation

The AOS has an internationally accepted form of accreditation for Catholic priests, that covers permission from their Bishops or religious superiors, and suitability for the mission based on experience, health and training.


Accreditation includes the following.                                 

– Testimonial from Bishop or Religious Superior.  

– Specific permission to undertake this Ministry. 

– Completion of training package. 

– Medical fitness. 

– Membership of National AOS (where applicable). 

4    Types of appointment

1          Sea-going Chaplain – An accredited priest appointed by the AOS to a specific ship for a particular period of time.

2          Team Chaplaincy – A team of priests supported by a shipping  company.     

3          Priests on board – A priest accredited by the AOS who is “offering availability” on a list and approached by a shipping company.


We’d suggest that the BEST PREFERRED MODEL from my experience is either model 1  or  model 2, either a full-time chaplain or team of chaplains attached to one vessel 

The seagoing priest model is already in the Team of the chaplains on board of the same National AOS,  and i.e. in the Italian system all the chaplains are already a Team in Service to the Costa Company (mostly) and  with a coordinator in contact with the Company. 

5 Industry agreements


An agreement between the AOS internationally and Shipping companies that provides a form of Service Level Agreement to provide properly accredited priests on any one of the three different types of appointment to serve on cruise ships. The agreements will be a three-way agreement between the AOS, the Shipping Company and the seagoing priest, recognizing and supporting best practice in pastoral ministry in the service of the crew and passengers.


We’d invite you to consider both during the discussion at the end of these presentations and also in the relevant workshops some



  1. The selection of priests should prefer full and dedicated service, or at least for long periods with due formation
  2. An underlining of crew welfare as well as pastoral care for the crew as a primary goal of chaplains on board.
  3. The importance of chaplains with regard to crew welfare support on board
  4. The establishment of Seagoing chaplain code of practice as developed by the Pontifical Council as standard guidelines for all countries which can be presented to all Companies
  5. The creation of a profile of seagoing chaplain who is much more similar to port chaplains, and Stella Maris center leaders, and to propose this common profile to Cruise Companies, with an on board Agreement between companies and AOS.
  6. The promotion of a preferred option of embarking the  chaplain  as crewmember (as staff with the   management for a  special  service  and professional work towards passengers and crew)… Sea going priests or team chaplaincy.


With the expansion of the cruise sector likely to continue and the pressures on crew also likely to continue, what may AOS’s plans be for the future?

In the immediate future we are working to develop our training for regular seagoing chaplains. 

Recently AOS is moving to coordinate cruise ministry on a global basis, AOS is now seeking to share with new cruise lines, the benefits experienced by those companies that have had cruise chaplains in board.  Not only for the passengers, but fundamentally for the crew, an increasing number of cruise companies are becoming aware that a happier crew is a safer and more productive crew, without adopting this rather limited view of the dignity of those at sea, AOS can testify that the provision of chaplains on board can improve the lives of those living and working at sea and deserves active support in carrying it’s ministry forward. 

As well as direct contacts to cruise lines, AOS is increasingly present at cruise industry exhibitions.

Given the increasingly global nature of cruise companies, AOS is also seeking to consolidate best practice and approach cruise lines establishing relationships based on agreements, clarifying the role of chaplain, first and foremost for the crew and also establishing the company’s support both practically and in principal to enhanced crew welfare.

It is hoped that these 3 future developments will mean that welfare support for crew on cruise ships will both be extended, put on a surer footing and be of a consistently high standard. 

Thank you for your attention to this presentation. Fr. Sinclair Oubre of AOS-USA will now present their pastoral experience in this field after which we will have opportunity for discussion, I hope with particular focus on the two areas of the papers on developing a code of conduct and the role of onboard leadership. 


  • Reply July 28, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    coming soon to a city near you Joe Absher Noah was most knowing on the topic and therefore did not sink Philip Williams a fact that should be considered strongly in any excavation

  • Joe Absher
    Reply July 28, 2019

    Joe Absher

    Cruise chaplainancy might be a perfect spot for a young couple called to ministry.

    • Reply July 28, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      hardly so if they cant handle the wave of ministry – certainly great for a street preacher with thousands locked to his attention on board Nowhere to run nowhere to jump

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