SCI Joins IMO Deliberation on Piracy

May 21, 2010
by the Rev. David M. Rider, President & Executive Director
The Seamen’s Church Institute’s (SCI) Center for Seafarer Rights Director Doug Stevenson and I just returned from participating in the 87th Session of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee in London.
The IMO serves as the United Nations’ regulatory agency for the marine industry, seeking to create a single, universal framework governing maritime operations for environmental, technical, and safety standards for global shipping. The IMO has designated 2010 as Year of the Seafarer.
In the spirit of this Year of the Seafarer, Doug and I participated in the Maritime Safety Committee’s deliberations on ways to suppress piracy. Since the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) is a consultative non-governmental organization member of the IMO, Doug (as ICMA Chairman) had formal voice along with Mission to Seafarers and ICMA colleague the Rev. Canon Ken Peters. Last year, ICMA presented a paper commending IMO’s work on piracy deterrence and prevention and urged the international community to expand its work on addressing the needs of seafarers and their families affected by piracy. Contributing to the discussion at this meeting, the United States delegation and ICMA invited SCI to introduce its Piracy Trauma Study, which examines the physical and mental health needs of seafarers and their families during and after piracy hijackings. 
The Maritime Safety Committee afforded SCI over 30 minutes to present the rationale and insights of its Study to a special lunchtime meeting. More than 100 delegates attended and engaged the issues with sophisticated questions and comments.
I briefed IMO delegates on SCI’s ground-breaking clinical study of piracy’s effects on seafarers’ and their families’ mental health needs, a study conducted in conjunction with Mt. Sinai School of Medicine’s Disaster Psychiatry Outreach and the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and Society. SCI’s Clinical Researcher, Michael S. Garfinkle, PhD, has already prepared Preliminary Guidelines for Post-Piracy Care of Seafarers, which I shared with the meeting. IMO’s member nations welcomed SCI’s Study and Guidelines—with explicit thanks during plenary deliberation from Spain, Malta, and a few other nations.
While SCI’s Study will scientifically assess stress levels of seafarers with and without direct exposure to piracy and recommend treatment guidelines for seafarers, our work already stimulates conversation among ship owners, unions, crewing agencies, maritime ministries, and port welfare workers. Several shipping companies recently have consulted informally with our Study’s team regarding crew preparation and contingency plans in the event of an encounter with pirates. In this way, SCI adapts and continues its mission of advocacy for the welfare and rights of seafarers around the world.