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West African piracy: different but the same…

West African piracy more resembles transnational organised crime with more sophisticated vessels and weapons compared to that of East Africa. But are these shorter-term, but potentially more violent, crimes more or less traumatic for seafarers? 

The Rev. David M. Rider, President & Executive Director of Seamens Church Institute of New York and New Jersey (SCI) reported on a meeting sponsored by Oceans Beyond Piracy to discuss the unique challenges of West African piracy.

Somalian (East African) piracy poses the challenges of long-duration hostage situations. The failed state of Somalia virtually guarantees continued ship hijackings.  The maritime world increasingly must cope with a different risk and modus operandi occurring in West Africa, around the Gulf of Guinea and Nigeria. West African pirates often target oil tankers both to seek ransom and to discharge the liquid cargo for black-market sale. Successful capture may last for days instead of months.  Pirates reportedly engage in more gratuitous violence and force seafarers to cooperate in moving the vessel and discharging the product against their will.   West African piracy allegedly includes government and commercial corruption working in tandem with pirates. West African piracy more resembles transnational organised crime with more sophisticated vessels and weapons compared to that of East Africa.

Rider raised questions for discussion regarding the human cost and how seafarers cope with different risks of East and West Africa. He asked:

  • Are short-term—but potentially more violent—crimes more or less traumatic than long-duration sieges sometimes lasting a year?
  • How do we move beyond anecdote to more systematically debrief seafarers after short- or long-term captivity, diagnosing trauma while hopeful for seafarer resilience?
  • Whether short- or long-duration, who decides when crews get back underway or disembark the ship for treatment or repatriation?
  • How do seafarers—often reticent to express pain or seek treatment—get the medical and psychological treatment they need without fear of stigma or discrimination when seeking a return to work?

Our CSR legal and psychological team remains passionate about gathering data, individual seafarer witness and international advocacy to advance these medical and psychological concerns regarding the proper care of seafarers. Amid tales of mock execution, torture, isolation and sexual assault, we want to better understand how healing and resilience overcome suffering for hostages and their families.

Rider committed himself, SCI, the Center for Seafarers Right Director, Douglas Stevenson, and  clinical psychologist, Dr. Michael Garfinkle, to providing consultation when requested and to hearing the stories of seafarers.

CLICK HERE to read Rider’s article on SCI’s website

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