Study on the Psychological Impact of Piracy on Seafarers

In early October Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) released a study on the psychological impacts of piracy on seafarers. While incidents of piracy decline off the Horn of Africa, an inestimable number of seafarers continue to bear the psychological impact of captivity by pirates.

To describe their condition and to advise the maritime industry on how to care for affected individuals, the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI), in collaboration with New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, releases a report from its clinical study of the effects of piracy on seafarers. The first of two reports introduced in London last week describes the study and major findings from 154 seafarer interviews. Some of the highlights of the study’s findings include:

  • Most seafarers interviewed did not think that their job is unduly stressful under normal conditions.
  • From 2009 to 2011, overt concern about piracy increased along with anticipatory stress about transiting piracy zones.
  • The frequency with which seafarers expressed appeal for armed guards on board ships for protection increased during the study.
  • Of those seafarers held captive or attacked by pirates, most experienced clinically significant symptoms afterwards.
  • Less than ⅓ of these seafarers felt that they had received adequate follow-up care.
  • Seafarers cited concerns about disclosing private medical records and being blacklisted as barriers to receiving medical care.

Even as the incidence of Somali piracy declines in 2012, the psychological impact on seafarers remains—and is likely to increase—as piracy continues and episodes of captivity become better known among the seafaring community. Clinical researchers found an increased stress level among seafarers as compared to three years ago.

Furthermore, according to the study stigmas associated with mental health symptoms and treatment remain ongoing concerns. At the individual level, seafarers may consider disclosure of emotional suffering a sign of weakness and shame. This bias inhibits disclosure, limiting access to care. As a culture, the expectation that self-reliant seafarers are hardy and resilient adds group pressure to the individual level. Additionally, seafarers’ ethnic and national cultures may hold biases that obstruct access to effective treatment. 

Source: Seamen’s Church Institute

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