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Seafarers decline jobs over piracy attacks

By Moses Ebosele
17 June 2015   |   5:22 am
SEAFARERS are suffering health problems and turning down work because of fears of piracy and armed robbery, even if they have not experienced violence first-hand, a study has found.
‘Gulf of Guinea: A den for pirates

‘Gulf of Guinea: A den for pirates

SEAFARERS are suffering health problems and turning down work because of fears of piracy and armed robbery, even if they have not experienced violence first-hand, a study has found.

Further, they are likely to have more worries than those who have actually been attacked.

A study put together by Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) in partnership with the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme and Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines suggests “indirect exposure” to violent incidents can cause health problems similar to those of seafarers who have been held hostage or attacked.

Most commonly among these are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and serious depression.

According to the report, this can then lead seafarers to decline jobs. It explained that indirect exposure includes the fear of an attack – such as when transiting a high-risk area – or having heard about an attack, or even from knowing a former hostage.

The finding, reported as part of the 2014 OBP report launched in London, was generated from a small survey sample of 150 Filipino seafarers. OBP told IHS Maritime that 7-8% of the seafarers exposed indirectly to piracy through transiting high-risk areas or through knowing hostages showed symptoms consistent with PTSD.

The highest rates of those who declined a job were those with no exposure to violence, followed by those who were attacked but not held hostage, followed by those who had both been attacked and held hostage.

The highest rates of concern about piracy were found in those who knew a hostage but were not attacked themselves.
Seafarers who had been held hostage were less likely to report concern about future piracy attacks or to decline a job because of piracy compared to indirectly exposed seafarers.

On the cause of this latter finding, the report speculates that a seafarer who has undergone an attack will have a “more realistic understanding of the scope and likelihood of the threat than seafarers who are indirectly exposed or not exposed at all”.

OBP, which hopes to extend this into a larger study in the future, concludes that “piracy’s impact on seafarers is likely to be much broader than originally expected”.

Detail on stress factors during transits through high-risk areas in the Gulf of Guinea, Western Indian Ocean, and Southeast Asia, include the need to act upon potential threats. This involves being on “pirate watch” for several days, and following BMP4, an essential practice in all high-risk areas.

The OBP report observed that the “tension of pirate watch is hard on the crew” such that “some are genuinely unnerved, and being unnerved for a week out of every month is not nothing.”

The measures and language of BMP4 are said to incite apprehension in seafarers. Measures that the reports said can invoke fear include: covering all cabin windows with blackout blinds, the ship to remain at least 4 n miles away from small craft, and the direction to “trust no one”. Language in the BMP4 guide is also fear-inducing, states the report, such as the statement that piracy is a “serious and continuing threat”, plus details about drug-induced erratic behaviour of pirates as well as their probable weaponry.

Approximately 4,991 seafarers on commercial ships,,  were exposed to attacks of varying intensity last year, including death (six, one in the Gulf of Guinea and five in Southeast Asia) and hostage taking,” but it seems unlikely that these personnel are being properly prepared for these voyages”.

Citing the Seamen’s Church Institute, the OBP report said: “When seafarers were asked if they felt they received adequate ‘mental preparation’ for traversing known zones of piracy, almost all respondents said they did not.”

Citing reported rescue of more than  2000 migrants from the mediterranean sea and several hundred  who lost their lives, the  International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu has  called for more concerted action to address the issue of criminals who organize illegal and unregulated sea passage by migrants.

Meanwhile, IMO has agreed on training requirements for seafarers navigating Arctic and Antarctic waters. The requirements are to enhance safety of navigation in polar areas and to ensure that the crew is prepared for the special conditions.
Sekimizu said: “We do not seek to prevent migration. People have the human right to migrate. But it is time to stop illegal, unregulated passage arranged by people smugglers. Not only do they put the lives of the migrants in danger, they also endanger the rescue services and merchant shipping which take part in the rescue operations. Something needs to be done against the smugglers or the situation will not improve. It is placing an intolerable strain on rescue services and on merchant vessels.”

He noted efforts made by Italian and other authorities in the most recent rescue operations, adding that  more than 200,000 people were rescued and more than 3,000 reported to have died in unsafe, irregular and illegal sea passages on the Mediterranean during 2014.  The IMO chief in a statement said: “This is a serious issue for IMO and a humanitarian tragedy. There is a strong tradition of search and rescue at sea and this will continue but the search and rescue services provided by a number of countries are overstretched. Even with the contribution of the Italian Navy and Italian Coast Guard, more than 600 merchant ships were diverted last year to go to the support of persons in distress at sea.
“This is beyond acceptable limits and without the Italian efforts many more would have died.

The efforts of Italian rescuers – and others – are greatly appreciated but we have reached the point where we need to focus more effort on the prevention side.”

The statement explained that IMO will host an inter-agency meeting on the travelling of migrants by Sea on  March 4, 2015, with the expected participation of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Interpol and other organizations and members of the Global Migration Group as well as interested Member States and shipping industry bodies.