by Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights
The Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) has developed considerable knowledge about the effects of piracy on seafarers through its unique clinical mental health study conducted with Mount Sinai School of Medicine. (See our Piracy Study page for more information.) We share our knowledge and experience with seafarers, chaplains and the maritime industry in a variety of ways, including speaking at conferences.
Last October, when I was speaking on piracy and issues surrounding seafarers’ mental health, I met Maersk Line company security officer Jonathan Davies. Jonathan, among other things, developed a training program for ships’ officers preparing to sail into high-risk piracy areas. Jonathan invited me share SCI’s experience with Maersk instructors at their training center in Svendborg, Denmark.
I recently took Jonathan up on his offer and participated in Maersk Training’s unique Surviving Piracy and Armed Robbery (SPAR) course. Frank Nielsen, a security expert with credentials in psychology, and Michael Linde, a clinical psychologist, expertly presented the course.
For three intensive days of instruction and practical exercises, my eight classmates (ship masters and chief officers) and I learned valuable skills on how to cope with piracy during an attack, hostage-taking and after release. We learned what to expect from pirates and how we should respond. Importantly, we also learned to be prepared for the psychological and medical effects of piracy on our shipmates and on us. With knowledge of common psychological responses to extreme stress, we learned coping skills and psychological “first aid” to help distressed shipmates. I provided insights from SCI’s experience that complemented the excellent SPAR course.
While none of us expect to be captured by pirates (especially me), we are now better prepared to sail in high-risk pirate areas and to deal with other catastrophes or highly stressful situations.
As our clinical study has shown, piracy does affect seafarers’ mental health to varying degrees, and there are effective therapies to help seafarers deal with the symptoms. The Maersk SPAR course takes these factors into account and increases seafarers’ abilities to survive a pirate attack and hostage-taking, including enduring the psychological effects.