SCI Announces Trauma Study

Jul 15, 2009

Post-Attack Information Gathering to Help Mariner Piracy Victims

At the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention in Anaheim, CA, the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) announced a new study examining the effects of piracy on merchant mariners.

In conjunction with the Disaster Psychiatry Outreach (DPO) at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, this multi-year project will explore the clinical assessment and treatment of piracy attack survivors. SCI’s study of the impact of piracy on seafarers and their families is the first of its kind in the maritime industry.

SCI has retained clinical psychologist Michael Garfinkle, PhD, to work in collaboration with SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights, which has studied piracy for more than a decade. Combining clinical, legal advocacy, and human resource practice, they will collaborate to develop recommendations to reduce crew trauma and promote crew resilience.

SCI’s program seeks to identify unique stressors of piracy hostage situations, along with immediate and ongoing medical evaluation strategies for crewmembers and their families. Study outcomes include plans for clinically assessing seafarers after piracy incidents, assisting families during prolonged piracy episodes, and triaging short- and long-term mental health treatment.

Douglas B. Stevenson, Director of SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights, explains that many pirate attack survivors simply disappear with no post-attack care systems in place to monitor their return to normal life. “Some shipping companies and some governments have gained a lot of experience in providing for survivors of pirate attacks,” says Stevenson, “but no best practices for mariners’ care have emerged, nor has anyone conducted clinical studies on the possible short- and long-term traumatic effects of piracy on merchant mariners after experiencing an attack.”

Piracy plagues international shipping and poses an intimidating risk to unarmed seafarers on the high seas. Since 2003, pirates have kidnapped or taken hostage more than 2,800 merchant mariners, and they have robbed or attacked many more. At the time of writing, pirates control 14 merchant vessels, many of them in the Gulf of Aden, containing some 230 crewmembers onboard. Hijackers hold vessels and their crews for months at a time until a ransom, often a multi-million dollar payout, is made in exchange.

“We should do everything that we can to prevent piracy,” says Stevenson, “but until piracy ceases to exist, we are accountable to respond with help for the world’s global workforce after these attacks.”

SCI currently seeks private funding sources to underwrite the project. To maintain research objectivity, project underwriters will be acknowledged but will not materially participate in the research scope or methodology. Click below to view a brochure outlining SCI's project.