Yowie Bay marine pilot receives Catholic Church award for work with seafarers

A Yowie Bay marine pilot has received an award for his tireless work putting together care packs for seafarers.

Captain Michael Kelly, a Port Authority of NSW marine pilot, received the Dempsey Medal which recognises those who make an outstanding contribution to the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney or its parishes.

As a marine pilot, his job is to fly out to sea to help guide large ships safely into busy Sydney Harbour and Port Botany. But he has also been a guiding light for many of the seafarers on board.

Having been at sea, he knows how tough it is to be away from family for months on end but says the coronavirus pandemic has made it even more difficult.

"It's been particularly challenging for them during the COVID-19 pandemic, when they've had to remain at sea for up to 15 months at a time because of border restrictions, when normally the maximum time they would be at sea would be 10 to 11 months," Captain Kelly said.

"They're understandably mentally exhausted and are having trouble sleeping, working and just functioning, not knowing when they'll be able to come home to their families.

"In some cases, it's been sad to see fathers who haven't seen their newborn babies because they haven't been able to come home."

For the past five years, Captain Kelly has worked closely with the Stella Maris Catholic chaplaincy for seafarers to pack thousands of Christmas hampers and personal care packs for seafarers who spend months at a time at sea.

He fundraises to purchase items, such as toothpaste, deodorants, razors and chocolates, for the care packs. He and wife Belinda and children, Thomas and Ashleigh, spend hours packing them before delivering them.

Stella Maris chaplain, Sister Mary Leahy, said 10,000 care packs had been provided over the past five years.

Sister Mary said she was pleased to see Captain Kelly recognised for his selfless work.

"He carries out his work very professionally and always does so with a great kindness, decency and sensitivity to all those around him and often in very challenging circumstances," she said.