The International Seamen’s Center (ISC) is located within the 300-acre State Ports Authority terminal in the Port of Wilmington NC. It was established in February, 1968 and is 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. The Center is entirely funded by voluntary, tax deductible donations from individuals, churches, and corporations in our community.
For more than 45 years, ISC volunteers have served literally tens of thousands of seamen from all over the world. An interdenominational ministry, the Seamen’s Center operates seven days a week and is open from 1:00 pm to 10:00 pm when ships are in port. Our mission is to serve the temporal and spiritual needs of approximately 7,000 international seamen, from over 40 different countries, who visit the Port City each year.
Often referred to as their “Home away from Home,” the Seamen’s Center provides a human touch for many seamen who experience little of that. Volunteers and chaplains at the Center act like family to these seafarers who often spend nine or ten months a year at sea and make as little as $350 dollars a month. Being at sea is never an easy job and it can involve hardships and sacrifices which are difficult to cope with. It is one of the world’s most dangerous occupations. In 2012, 1000 merchant seamen died at sea, according to the International Maritime Organization. The rate of suicide for international seafarers is triple that of shore workers, and they are 26 times more likely to be killed at work. The threat of piracy is real and shipwreck at sea is part of the danger seamen face every day. The Center’s “Home away from Home” atmosphere provides seafarers a safe harbor during their stay in the Port City and helps them find the strength to overcome the difficulties and hardships they endure once they return to the sea.
The International Seaman’s Centers work is often unheralded but provides a vital service to the shipping industry and the city of Wilmington because it is part of a global network of volunteer centers that care for the welfare of the 1.5 million seafarers we all rely upon to deliver over 90 percent of world trade, including North Carolina’s exports to overseas customers. Seafarers often arrive for brief visits on ships in the Port and come from a variety of religious backgrounds: Protestant, Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and many with no religious beliefs at all. They all have a variety of physical, emotional, and spiritual needs needs when they arrive after many days and weeks at sea. No matter what problem a seafarer is facing, they know they can turn to the chaplains and volunteers at the Center for help, advice, support, and prayer. Frequently, their only impression about our country, our city, and its people is what they gather from their visits to the Seamen’s Center and interactions with our dedicated volunteers. We see ourselves as representatives of our Christian faith, our city and our nation.
The International Seamen’s Center attracts volunteers from many area churches, the shipping industry, private sector, retirement community, and public service groups who devote their time and energies to tend to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the seamen who visit our port. Caring for seafarers around the world, our volunteers enjoy interacting with the seamen and are always available to encourage them, support, and pray with them.
One of our chaplains board each ship while it is in port to offer assistance to the captain and crew. Every ship that comes into our port is given popular reading material such as National Geographic magazines, along with Christian literature and devotionals. Bibles, sound tracts, and the “Jesus” video are available in over 32 languages. Our chaplains and priests provide counseling to the seamen, offer prayer and services in the Center’s chapel and even conduct religious services for crews onboard their ships.
The Center’s new physical facility, which opened its doors in 2012, houses a chapel which is available for worship, prayer, and meditation. It also offers various recreational activities such as board games, puzzles,TV in a lounge area, computers and WiFi connections, and telephones so the seamen can call home, or email and Skype with their loved ones overseas. Low cost telephone cards are available for the seamen and our cookie jars are always filled for their enjoyment. We also assist in mailing and sending items back home. Our volunteers routinely transport the seamen in the Center’s two passenger vans to various popular shopping areas in Wilmington such as Walmart, Best Buy, and Independence Mall.
Most of us are blessed with family and friends during the holidays and Christmas season, but this can be a lonely time for seafarers. During the season of Christmas every seaman visiting the Center is given a gift of various toiletries, clothing, non-perishable snack foods and candy. Each year our volunteers gather and distribute over 600 gifts in wrapped packages. Often this is the only gift the seamen receive during the holidays as they travel the seas far away from home and their families. The annual Christmas Program is an excellent project for church groups, schools, civic organizations, businesses, and clubs, as well as for families and individuals. If you would like to contribute to the annual gift-giving Christmas program, please call the International Seamen’s Center main line at 910-762-3792 and a volunteer would be glad to assist you.
As Wilmington’s port continues to grow, more volunteers are needed at the Center. Volunteers are need to provide transportation to health clinics and to take the seamen to local retail stores to purchase clothing or personal hygiene items. Our dedicated volunteers have the opportunity to make a world of difference — and to become world missionaries without ever leaving home!
Thank YOU for showing an interest in the International Seamen’s Center and our ministry caring for seafarers around the world.