21 December 2023

Sea Swift to the rescue: Priest boards cargo vessel to get home for Christmas

| Matt Nicholls
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Sea Swift captain Frank with Father Dariusz on the Newcastle Bay.

With flights in and out of Cairns thrown into chaos following the flooding in the Far North, Catholic priest Fr Dariusz Osinksi found himself in a predicament last week.

With his flight cancelled out of Weipa on Tuesday, he had no way to get to his parishioners in Cairns’ northern beaches in time for Christmas.

This was because Qantas kept its passengers booked on their original flights and, with the holidays approaching, the airline had no spare seats to accommodate impacted travellers.

Fr Dariusz was told that the next flight he could get out on would be on December 28.

And with roads impassable due to the floods, all hope appeared to be lost.

That was until Sea Swift came along and saved the day.

Through a contact at Ports North, the shipping company got the request to transport the Polish priest on the Newcastle Bay from Weipa to Cairns.

Fr Dariusz thanked God for the chance to be with his flock, who had been badly affected by the flooding.

“This opportunity came and I believe by the grace of God, I can go and be with my parish,” he said.

Weipa falls under Fr Osinski’s pastoral care and although the mining town mostly empties over Christmas, he travelled there last Friday to celebrate Mass for the workers and locals who were staying there over holidays.

He said while his priority was to be in Cairns, he was prepared to stay in Weipa if he couldn’t get home.

“I didn’t really panic … because I believe that Weipa is part of my parish and wherever I am, I’m still with my parishioners,” he said.

“I feel at home here and if I have to stay with these people, I will stay with them without hesitation.

“My concern was with the lack of priests that we have in the Diocese of Cairns, a parish like Northern Beaches … the largest parish in the diocese, I didn’t want all the communities to be without priests for Christmas.”

The Newcastle Bay steams out of the Weipa port, bound for Cairns.

He said his parish needed his spiritual support at this time, too, with so many homes and businesses impacted by the flooding.

Fr Dariusz has ministered in the diocese for the last seven years and said he had never seen “weather so crazy”.

One of his parishioners who works in the ports was able to secure a place for him on the Sea Swift vessel.

Newcastle Bay captain Frank said the company was only too happy to help out.

“We were approached by Ports North to assist with the transit of Fr. Dariusz from Weipa back to Cairns due to the unavailability of flights out of Weipa,” he said.

“That request was approved at management level and passed to the ship.

“We were happy to assist and Fr Dariusz joined us on Tuesday prior to our departure from Humbug wharf.”

The voyage from Weipa to Cairns is about 45 hours and Sea Swift was anticipated to arrive in Cairns on Thursday afternoon.

“It has been a pleasure to have Fr Dariusz aboard with us and we wish him well with his mission,” said the skipper.

Fr Dariusz said he appreciated Sea Swift’s kindness.

“The crew is friendly… I was shown where the dining room is, where I can rest, where I can walk and not walk,” he said.

“I am really happy this opportunity was able to come up and I can get home.”

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