Obituary: Pastor Bernard Krug

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THE WELFARE of seafarers, especially men and women recruited in third-world countries for flag of convenience merchant shipping, gave Bernard Krug a cause that he promoted world-wide. His own seafaring began as an officer cadet in Hitler's navy and he survived both the final collapse of the Reich and four hard years that followed in Soviet labour camps.

As a Lutheran minister he tired of parochial life in Bavaria, changing his scene 36 years ago by becoming a chaplain for German seamen calling at south Welsh ports. Krug transferred to Felixstowe 10 years later, in 1973, to found the first centre for seafarers that fully united international Protestant and Roman Catholic efforts. He went on to lead its campaign against what he saw as unjust maritime employment practices.

Krug was born in 1926 in the Bavarian town of Schweinfurt, where he and his schoolfellows, aged 14 and upwards, had to "man" a Hitler Youth anti- aircraft battery. In the summer of 1944 he was conscripted into the Kriegsmarine and served first in the battleship Schleswig Holstein, which had fought in the Battle of Jutland.

Notoriously, this veteran "ship of the line" had also fired the first shots that started the Second World War by targeting Polish troops stationed in the "free city" of Danzig, now Gdansk. RAF bombers sank her at Gdynia in December 1944, but Krug stepped dry-shod to the quay before the warship keeled over. He then became one of very few German officers to serve on board a British merchant vessel. She was Ben Line's Glengarry, which had been captured at a Copenhagen shipyard. The Germans renamed the ship Hansa and converted her into an auxiliary cruiser.

As the European war drew to a close Krug was switched to a naval shore battery, attached to an SS division. He saw at least 10 dead German soldiers and one 14-year-old boy who had been hanged from trees for alleged cowardice. His own unit surrendered, disobeying the orders of a young SS officer to fight to the finish in a village surrounded by the Red Army.

Krug described how the Soviet troops treated their own Russian prisoners who had "deserted". He saw one of them step out of line, apparently to pick up a cigarette end. Instantly, a guard shot and killed the prisoner. Krug's four years of forced labour were spent mainly in Ukraine, Latvia and Russia itself.

He bore no grudges. "The people of those countries suffered as much hardship as we did," he said. "For food there was a piece of bread a day and very watery soup twice a day. We worked eight hours a day, six days a week. The worst times were during the winter. We were always cold, undernourished and without adequate clothing. Work in the open became deadly in a snowstorm and at temperatures of more than 20 degrees Centigrade below zero. Many just faded away at night. In the morning you discovered that the man next to you was dead."

He spent the winter of 1946/47 in a remote forest camp set up to supply firewood for Moscow. Deep snow prevented supplies reaching the camp and the prisoners went without food for up to 12 days. Krug nearly lost a foot to frostbite. Later, in better conditions, long brainwashing sessions failed to convert him to Communism.

Back in Bavaria, he trained for ordination as a Lutheran pastor, ministering to country parishes before joining in the German Seamen's Mission. Krug arrived in Britain in 1963 to work at Cardiff and Swansea, moving to Felixstowe in 1973. There he teamed up with the British and International Sailors' Society, Apostleship of the Sea, Missions to Seamen and Netherlands Seafarers' Welfare Society to create Felixstowe Seafarers' Centre, which opened in 1976 as the first purpose-built ecumenical facility of its kind.

Krug served as the centre's honorary secretary for six years, then for 10 years as General Secretary of the International Christian Maritime Association. He co-ordinated moves to win justice for seafarers, organising venues as unusual as a convent in the Philippines. His negotiations involved unions, employers and governments, and sometimes achieved success, but this was usually far short of his hopes.

Bernard Karl Krug, minister of the church and seafarers' campaigner: born Schweinfurt, Germany 31 July 1926; chaplain, Deutschen Seemannsmission 1963-1982; General Secretary, International Christian Maritime Association 1982-1991; director, British and International Sailors' Society 1992-99; married 1960 Dorothea Pslanz (died 1990; two sons, two daughters); died Ipswich, Suffolk 1 October 1999.