As reports confirm the pirate attack on MV Duke off the coast of Benin this week1 and the successful abduction of 20 Indian seafarers, leading maritime welfare organisations the International Seafarers' Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) and the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) have joined forces to raise concerns about the wellbeing and safety of seafarers transiting through the notorious and dangerous waters of the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).
Figures from the International Maritime Bureau’s last quarterly report suggests that the GoG region accounts for nearly 82% of crew abductions globally with 38% of the reported 119 incidents taking place within the Gulf of Guinea region. With such attacks often happening at speed and with a high degree of violence, the welfare organisations are highlighting the increase in the stress and trauma that a seafarer goes through when they transit through this area. In addition to the occupational and commercial pressures that a seafarer has to cope with, the fear of being attacked and held in captivity raises the stress levels of all those onboard.
Whilst commending the efforts made by various stakeholders in the region including the passage of an Anti-Piracy bill by the Nigerian Government, Roger Harris, Executive Director of ISWAN, and the Revd Canon Andrew Wright, Chairman of ICMA, appeal to all governments in the GoG region to work together to ensure that seafarers sailing on merchant ships, including those working on offshore vessels and oil rigs, are provided with safe and secure passage. 'It is our hope that all parties will work together to break up the gangs working in the area and that those responsible for such criminal acts will be brought to justice,' they said. 'Seafarers are justifiably worried about working in these areas and the stress of just thinking one might be attacked can be overwhelming. We call on shipowners to maintain necessary security training of seafarers and to put in place assistance programmes to ensure seafarers have access to welfare and counselling services such as ISWAN’s 24-hour helpline SeafarerHelp or ICMA port chaplains who maintain a presence in approximately 125 countries including in and around the GoG.'
ICMA and ISWAN operatives in the region work closely together to support seafarers who suffer from pirate attack. Both teams are always on hand to assist seafarers who are traumatised by such incidents through accredited and internationally recognised post-trauma counselling. In addition, ICMA chaplains can often arrange for families to be supported during the ordeal and put in place long-term support to deal with the aftermath.
ISWAN’s Regional Programme aims to provide humanitarian support to seafarers and their families affected by incidents of piracy, armed robbery and hostage taking. The programme is also revising its training module for seafarers that helps them to get an awareness of piracy and other maritime threats emerging around the world and knowledge of whom to contact and what procedures to follow should they be approached by a suspicious vessel. One of the important element of the course helps a seafarer to improve his or her resilience and coping skills while taken hostage or if the vessel gets hijacked by pirates.