Seafarer charity Sailors’ Society has set up a crisis response centre in Durban to provide 24-hour rapid response to seafarers affected by violent incidents in sub-Saharan Africa.
The support is provided by a network of port chaplains who have undergone traumatic incident response training.
The main traumas reported result from: pursuit by pirates including boarding and capture; robbery and beating; prolonged belittling; threats; fear of being killed; shots fired in close proximity to seafarers’ heads; cigarette burns; loud abusive language; constant uncertainty; isolation; attempts to constantly convince [the seafarers] that they have no control or manhood; and rape.
In a statement to IHS Maritime, the programme’s leader Reverend Boet van Schalkwyk, said the initiative aimed to offset a trend of traumatised crews being repatriated before they had received front-line trauma counselling.
He noted that seafarers suffered from fears associated with sailing into danger areas when they returned to work. These fears extended to their families.
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The charity said its data did not reflect any particular trend showing specific flags failed to get seafarers the treatment and counselling they needed. The society has worked with Australian, Filipino, Georgian, Greek, Indian, and Ukrainian seafarers.
However he noted “an information block” in the Gulf of Guinea region on “same day news of crew releases or accessibility to survivors”. He said the charity relied heavily on “reliable piracy reports released on websites of organisations and foundations”.
Van Schalkwyk noted a decrease in victims being sent to its centre as a result of piracy incidents in the Gulf of Aden but noted a potential for “a rapid resurgence” in that area.
The main problems suffered by the seafarers assisted by the charity include “low self esteem; lack of hope; failure; suspicion until they are assured that we are chaplains; guarded response until trust is restored; anger; guilt; fear; uncertainty of coping abilities; the need for mass/communion/prayer (which is of course provided immediately) – the need for a full range of toiletries and a bathroom (also provided) – abuse; and torture symptoms”.
In a recent report by Oceans Beyond Piracy on the State of Maritime Piracy, it was found that approximately 5,000 seafarers were attacked in the Gulf of Guinea, the western Indian Ocean, and southeast Asia in 2014.