Women in shipping - Jan Webber, director of development, Mission to Seafarers

Jan Webber was no stranger to shipping when she joined the seafarer charity Mission to Seafarers in June 2017. She had previously been director of fundraising for the Sailor’s Society between 2005 and 2016, but moved on to work for a disabled children’s charity in the south of England.

However, Webber could not resist returning to the maritime industry and joined the Mission as director of development. She said the main pull was the fact the role provided her with the opportunity to help people on an international rather than a local scale.

“What appeals to me [about the maritime industry] is that it has so many different facets,” Webber told Fairplay on the phone during a visit to the Philippines. “You can be talking to lawyers, bankers, and shipowners, and behind all that is the economy and trade routes. It is all interwoven and the global population depends on it. It gives me the chance to learn about different countries and cultures and how they interact.”

During her visit to the Philippines in February, Webber was working with the Missions’ Family Support Network, which helps families cope when their loved ones are at sea. This involves introducing skills, communication training, and budgeting to help reduce stress for both the family and the seafarer.

The passion Webber has for the shipping industry is evident. “There is so much to learn [in shipping] and I would encourage any woman to consider a career in the industry. It may be that going to sea is not for them, but a shore-based job can be very exciting too.”

In her role, Webber evolves and implements the development strategy and plan for the Mission, which works in 200 ports and 50 countries, and raises funds and the profile of the charity. It has grown to be one of the largest port-based welfare operators in the world, with its London headquarters supporting more than 70 frontline staff and about 100 honorary chaplains, as well as volunteers who visit ships, arrange crew transport on shore, and provide a range of welfare support.

In the coming year the Mission plans on “deepening our support with the corporate world”, expanding the Mission Family Support Networks its offers in the Philippines, India, Myanmar, and Ukraine, bring on a new chaplaincy in Panama and Argentina and even look into the creation of a ‘digital chaplaincy’, making use of connectivity at sea. Webber added that more focus will be given to human rights and slavery “where we already do much to support seafarers around the globe”.

For Webber, the motivation for her role comes from seeing the effect the charity has on the everyday lives of seafarers and their families. ”I am in the Philippines at the moment and can see how little many of these people have. It’s not possible to help them all, but by helping a seafarer and his family the Mission is helping whole communities. It’s marvellous to play a small part in this team effort.”

Her biggest career highlight at the Mission to date has been helping the crew of the ore-oil carrier A Whale that were stranded in the Suez Canal in 2017, dealing with high temperatures without water or fuel, as well as her dealings with the ship’s master, Captain Niaz, who she spoke to daily for six weeks. “I told him that I would continue to fight for his repatriation, even if he couldn’t reach me. He told me afterwards that I had given him reassurance but above else ‘hope’.”