by the Rev. David M. Rider, President & Executive Director
Recently, Dr. Michael Garfinkle and I represented the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) at a 3-day consultation on support for seafarers after their release from pirate captivity. The Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program (MPHRP) sponsored the meeting, held near Durban, South Africa.
Participants included twenty chaplains and port welfare workers—many serving in ports such as Mombasa, Port Richard and Durban, where ships often sail after release by Somali pirates. SCI’s Clinical Researcher Dr. Michael Garfinkle, an Irish military psychologist and an Italian telemedicine physician joined the meeting as clinical consultants. Concurrent with our meeting, Somali pirates held captive an estimated 207 seafarers.
Though covering many contexts of seafarer care, our meeting focused primarily on immediate support for seafarers arriving into port after release from captivity. Participants discussed immediate human welfare needs, including phone contact with family and medical evaluation. Our clinicians warned against intrusive questions about captivity that may be premature to discuss unless initiated by seafarers.
Dr. Garfinkle’s presentation focused on psychological needs after extreme events. He stressed that those affected often seek a sense of safety, calm, connection and hope. They seek to regain hope in their natural resilience, supportive family and ability to absorb what has happened.
During the conference, we repeatedly focused on ways in which the port chaplain serves as a member of a complex system when recently-released ships come into port. The helpful chaplain coordinates information and insights on behalf of the seafarer with security officials, port state authorities, agents and ship owners who control access to the ship and crew. The chaplain also offers support to first responders tasked with the enormous responsibility of caring for the crew.
In addition to careful planning for future post-piracy support, the conference deepened the professional collaboration and trust among participants, creating a vital support group and resource for future post-captivity cases. The MPHRP team will collate the many insights from the meeting, review them with participants and publish suggested guidelines for future care by mid-year.
This summer, SCI will publish results of a groundbreaking clinical study on seafarer mental health conducted by Dr. Garfinkle in collaboration with New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine and its Disaster Psychiatry Outreach program. Dr. Garfinkle will present study results at an international psychology conference in Cape Town, South Africa. As part of SCI’s mission, Dr. Garfinkle will subsequently serve as a resource to chaplains and other port welfare workers caring for seafarers after release from pirate captivity.