Seafarer Voices: Piracy on the High Seas

Feb 21, 2012

A YouTube video series describing pirate attacks

Among discussions of anti-piracy measures in the Gulf of Aden and special courtrooms in the Seychelles and Mauritius, the maritime industry has begun to broach a gentler, less politically hot topic in the wake of 237 pirate attacks off coast of Somalia in 2011. What happens to seafarers, held often for months on end, after release from a pirate hijacking? Their untold stories comprise part of a video interview compilation by the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI)—the first installment released today on YouTube—to give voice to seafarers held captive by pirates. (View videos at http://smschur.ch/seafarervoices.)

While conducting research for its clinical study of the effects of piracy on seafarers, SCI has heard from many detained by pirates off the coast of Somalia. Those who survive hijackings tell of harrowing encounters and unshakable memories. “Piracy takes a terrible toll on seafarers and their families,” says the Rev. David M. Rider, SCI's President and Executive Director. “Many suffer in silence.”

Seeking to break the silence, SCI asks seafarers to share their experiences, recording their first-hand accounts of pirate attacks in video interviews. The seafarers relate stories of mental and physical torture, intimidation of both them and their families and drug abuse by pirates while on board. “Those who agree to speak on camera describe something most of us cannot even imagine,” says Rider.

SCI seeks to provide seafarers a platform for sharing in and contributing to the dialogue on post-piracy care. Douglas B. Stevenson, Director of SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights, points out that in the past others have paid scant attention to piracy’s effects on seafarers. “But that’s changing,” he says, “and through the publication of these videos, we hope to add to that change.”

Stevenson believes that through this collection of stories, seafarers will find they are not alone. “Piracy has always captured public imagination—most of which is romanticized,” he says. “We are trying to show the real human impact of piracy through seafarers’ own words.”

Stevenson also hopes that openly talking of experiences helps to normalize candid discussion of seafarer mental health issues. He identifies frequent stigmatization of mental health care and believes it prevents seafarers from seeking the benefits of therapy and treatment. “By not talking publicly about the effects of piracy, we contribute to the silence. It’s time we speak out.”