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 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.
This can then lead seafarers to decline jobs.
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 yesterday, 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 states, “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.”