ISWAN were proud to host Chirag Bahri at a briefing on piracy on 7th April. Chirag Bahri has worked as the Regional Director for MPHRP's piracy response in South Asia for four years. MPHRP recently became part of ISWAN, and the ISWAN team also answered questions about ISWAN's work supporting seafarers and on the state of piracy today.
Piracy is a complex issue with a major impact on seafarers worldwide. In South Asia the MPHRP team have extra challenges. Although some ship owners and management are supportive, for other seafarers the work of Chirag's team is the only support they receive. Ships have been abandoned by owners when captured in Somalia, and there is not always useful support from the ship management during or after captivity. During a hostage situation, the piracy response team will get in touch with ship management and encourage them to stay in regular and frequent contact with families affected "day by day, minute by minute" says Chirag. "We'll help them sort out gas and electric bills and get access to accounts whilst the seafarer is held captive. We help them retain normal living conditions." When seafarers return from a hostage situation, or from any incident of piracy, counselling and ongoing support is provided. Their lives need "restructuring...they need support from families, friends, society, shipping companies. Sometimes their passports have been taken so we help them get new documents." Working closely with the Ministry of Shipping in India, Chirag works to get documents replaced in a relatively short time. He helps the seafarers move forwards, finding them jobs with shipping companies and getting them back to sea.
With seafarers from two fishing vessels still in captivity, the Siraj and Naham 3, and the cases of piracy involving hostage taking rising in West Africa and South East Asia, the impact of piracy on seafarers long-term and on those left behind is still severe. West African pirates can be especially violent. Working in closed waters and near anchorage or coastal areas, they have short timescales to board the targeted vessel and get the seafarers to comply. This can lead to seafarers being injured or killed. Preparation for possible pirate attacks is essential. "Preparing seafarers from grass roots is very important. We provide training modules on piracy awareness, covering how to prepare personally for attacks, and stressing the necessity of hardening your vessel, what to do in case you see a suspicious boat, and what to do if boarded, staying calm and not panicking. We teach them coping skills for during captivity." There are 120 piracy trainers in India who have been trained to pre-departure courses by MPHRP.
A lesser known issue with piracy is the aftermath for the ships during investigation. After attack, ships may be taken to the closest port and kept there while an investigation takes place. This can also be a difficult experience for the seafarers on board and for the shipping companies who are providing assistance to them. For those ships sailing through pirate waters, the act of doing so alone is enough to cause stress and anxiety.
Chirag is also working to broaden the response to crises beyond piracy, to help families in cases where seafarers are detained or go missing. As piracy changes, the field of piracy response is also evolving, and the support options for seafarers affected by any form of piracy are becoming more accessible and mainstream. The work of preparation is vital, and development of services which will benefit seafarers and their families an ongoing aim.