Internationally, June 25 is The Day of the Seafarer, and Whangamata's Sinclair Carter is among those using his seafaring skills for the good of others.

When Sinclair and wife Kathy learned they had the skills needed to help provide essential surgery for people in West Africa, they were surprised - because Sinclair is a seafarer and Kathy, a project manager.

From a family of seafarers going back two generations, Chief Engineer Sinclair began as an apprentice and sailed the across the Pacific, through Asia and Europe - but a hospital ship in Africa was something new entirely.

"The industry has been good to me," explains Sinclair. "I saw there was a need. I had a desire to pass on knowledge and experience."

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That need was a volunteer opportunity aboard the 16,000 tonne Mercy Ship, a transportable platform for a world-class surgical hospital dedicated to providing essential services for Africa's poorest people.

Kathy's experience as a project manager with a background in intensive care nursing joined the dots and in February the couple signed up for a three-month tour of duty volunteering with Mercy Ships in Senegal, West Africa.

"We both decided that we wanted to do something which gave back to people in a more meaningful way, reflects Kathy.

"We are the support service and keep things running so that others can treat those in need," adds Sinclair. "We provide the service platform to run the ship."

 Sinclair's wife Kathy Carter brought her project management skills to the Mercy Ship mission in Africa. Photo / Mercy Ships
Sinclair's wife Kathy Carter brought her project management skills to the Mercy Ship mission in Africa. Photo / Mercy Ships

With Kathy as the deck administrator and Sinclair as second engineer, the couple's volunteer service in the Africa Mercy technical team proved to be both compelling and vital.

When the global Covid-19 outbreak occurred a month after their arrival, Mercy Ships shortened the 10-month field service in Senegal to eight months out of concern for the health and wellbeing of both patients and crew.

The couple not only took the changed circumstances in their stride, they extended their original three-month tour-of-duty to six; until August.

"I am blessed to have my wife with me during this time. We have kept each other grounded and philosophical about the events that have occurred," reflects Sinclair.

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"We have been fortunate to have our community 'bubble' here on the ship so we haven't felt like we're missing out on much. Perhaps being older makes us more accepting of the 'restrictions' being placed on us due to Covid-19, however we just feel we are in the safest place right at the moment. We hope we can serve as role models to some of the younger crew.

"The engineering team are fantastic and working with them has been the real highlight of my time on Mercy Ships," says Sinclair.

Sinclair at work on the Africa Mercy. Photo / Mercy Ships
Sinclair at work on the Africa Mercy. Photo / Mercy Ships

"They are from a range of countries; Ghana, Sierra Leone, Benin, Cameroon, USA, Madagascar, Japan, UK, Denmark, Switzerland. Everybody is here because they want to be here. A whole bunch of people who have chosen to be here."

The Carters will serve the remainder of their tour-of-duty on board the Mercy Ship docked in the Canary Islands in their Covid-19 free bubble of the remaining 130, primarily technical, crew members.

"It will be difficult to return to the normal commercial world," says Sinclair.

"I think Mercy Ships has changed my attitude toward other people, helped me become more open, less judgmental. I have become more conscious of how privileged and entitled we are in the Western world."

For many people living in sub-Saharan Africa, the healthcare landscape is dire, with many lacking access to basic medical and surgical care.

This is why Mercy Ships exists — to strengthen healthcare systems through training and mentoring while reducing the strain on those systems through free, life-changing surgery.

And that is why huge-hearted people like Sinclair volunteer their technical skills; because ships of mercy couldn't float without them.

Currently the charity's emphasis is remotely providing e-learning, specific healthcare courses and logistical support for local colleagues in the front line of the fight against Covid-19 in West Africa, and the supply of PPE.

However, Mercy Ships needs volunteers to power the hospital ships as they prepare to return to Africa in early 2021 to continue strengthening local healthcare systems for the future alongside the provision of essential surgery for the present.

There are volunteer opportunities for professional mariners who want to have their families at sea with them, who want to see something different and be part of the Mercy Ships mission of providing access to safe, timely healthcare.

To find out more visit www.mercyships.org.nz/volunteer.