Thousands of Ukrainian seafarers visiting UK ports will be able to contact loved ones back home thanks to a national connectivity initiative the Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB) has signed up to.
The Southampton-based charity made an application to Vodafone, through its charities.connected scheme, for 8,000 free SIM cards – which has now been approved. It comes as there are still no signs of Russia ending its attack on Ukraine.
Each Pay as You Go SIM card contains 20GB data with unlimited texts and UK calls. The seafarers can use Facebook, WhatsApp or FaceTime for overseas calls using the data allowance.
The retail value of each card is £20 a month, and they have a six-month validity, so each is worth £120 – with the total amount of 8,000 SIMs equating to nearly one million pounds.
Chief Executive of MNWB Stuart Rivers said: “The situation in Ukraine is utterly horrendous and our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected. It’s been nearly two months since the attack started and yet so many Ukrainian seafarers have been thousands of miles from their families and friends who have seen their homes destroyed and flee to unknown locations.
“And sadly, the conflict doesn’t seem to be getting resolved anytime soon which is why we, as a leading maritime charity, have applied and successfully secured this number of SIM cards so those all-important phone, texts or video calls can be made. Hopefully, at the very least, this will offer some reassurance and comfort at a deeply distressing time.”
Last month MNWB, the umbrella charity for organisations that provide welfare support to seafarers and fishers across UK ports, launched an emergency SIM card fund for Ukrainian seafarers. The fund started with £10,000 and almost half of that has already been used by frontline welfare charities including Stella Maris, Mission to Seafarers, The Seafarers’ Charity and Sailors’ Society.
Emma Reynolds, Head of Communications, Sustainability and Regulatory Affairs at Vodafone UK, said: “We hope, that by providing free connectivity to the Merchant Navy Welfare Board and the other amazing charities across the UK who have such an enormous impact on their local communities, we can help create a more inclusive digital society.”
There are around 75,000 Ukrainian seafarers across the world, thousands of which will be able to benefit from this scheme.
MNWB will be giving out the SIM cards via frontline maritime charities who can apply for the number they require at https://www.mnwb.org/sim-card-project .