The Seamen's Church Institute has been a fixture on the Philadelphia waterfront for nearly 170 years, providing friendly help each year to 40,000 seafarers whose ships dock in ports along the Delaware.

Soon, the interdenominational ministry will have a new head chaplain and executive director: the Rev. Peter B. Stube, 61, an Episcopal priest who served 13 years as rector of the Church of the Redeemer in Springfield, Delaware County. For the last decade, he has been rector of Christ Church of New Bern, N.C., the second-largest parish in the Diocese of East Carolina.

He will begin work Feb. 18, the institute said Thursday, and was selected after an extensive search to succeed the Rev. James D. Von Dreele, who retired in November after 16 years as port chaplain.

In his new role, Stube and his staff will visit more than 1,500 ships a year - each cargo ship that docks - and 33 marine terminals on the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides of the river.

Their mission is to offer counsel to foreign sailors, help with immigration issues, and intervene in problems such as pay disputes. They also escort the sailors off ships for a few hours of R&R.

In an interview, Stube said he was interested in the Seamen's Church because generations of his family, and his wife Rachael's, were missionaries. "My grandfather was a missionary in India. My parents were missionaries to Indonesia, and Rachael's parents were missionaries to the Philippines and Japan."

"I've always had a love for the people of that part of the world," said Stube, a priest for 33 years. "Since many of the seafarers also are from India, the Philippines, and some from Indonesia, it was very appealing."

Because of post-9/11 immigration regulations, many crews cannot leave ship because they do not have U.S. visas. Those who do often head for the Seamen's Institute at 475 N. Fifth St. to watch TV, call home, reflect in the chapel, or surf the Web.

Contact Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.