by Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights
Today in London, I introduced the initial report of the Seamen’s Church Institute’s (SCI) clinical study, conducted with Mount Sinai School of Medicine, of the effects of piracy on seafarers’ mental health at the meeting of Working Group 3 of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. This report, designed for immediate use by maritime industry stakeholders, will be followed at a later stage by a peer-reviewed scientific paper.
SCI and Mount Sinai School of Medicine designed and initiated the clinical study in 2009. Between 2009 and 2011, SCI’s Clinical Researcher, Dr. Michael S. Garfinkle, and his assistant, Dr. Janaka Saratchandra, interviewed 154 seafarers from all over the world in a carefully designed protocol approved by Mount Sinai’s Institutional Review Board. Twenty-five of the seafarers interviewed had been held captive or had witnessed attempted boardings by pirates.
Some of the highlights of the study include:
- Most seafarers interviewed did not think that their job is unduly stressful under normal conditions.
- From 2009 to 2011, overt concern about piracy increased along with anticipatory stress about transiting piracy zones.
- The frequency with which seafarers expressed appeal for armed guards on board ships for protection increased during the study.
- Of those seafarers held captive or attacked by pirates, most had experienced clinically significant symptoms afterwards.
- Less than ⅓ of these seafarers felt that they had received adequate follow-up care.
- Seafarers cited concerns about disclosing private medical records and being blacklisted as barriers to receiving medical care.
While the incidence of pirate attacks have been declining, the psychological impact on seafarers remains. Effective therapies exist to treat symptoms, but the stigma of mental health care and the absence of available resources to conduct proper assessments prevent seafarers from receiving appropriate care. On best practices for debriefings, there exists little consistency or agreement, and some premature attempts at debriefing can present problems.
To assist the industry, SCI, in collaboration with other clinical researchers, is preparing a recommended assessment battery for administering evaluations. We hope that the psychological assessment battery positively adds to the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program’s work as well as the work of governments, ship operators and other maritime stakeholders.
The Working Group 3 Chairman, Ambassador Moon from Korea, expressed appreciation for our work and its value as an addition to a holistic and coordinated response to the complicated provision of seafarers and their families affected by piracy.