Significant Levels of PTSD From Piracy

Pirates board ship. Credit: Hostage Support Partnership

By MarEx 2016-06-28 21:21:12

More than 3,000 seafarers have been held hostage by Somali pirates since 2001, and a significant, but unknown, number of seafarers have been kidnapped in other parts of the world. Around 40 are currently being held in captivity. 

A new report published by Oceans Beyond Piracy and One Earth Future, both programs of the One Earth Future Foundation, explores the long-term impact of piracy on seafarer and family recovery. 

Key findings from the report include: 

• Most seafarers who have been held hostage do not show lasting impairment in their mental or behavioral health, but 25 percent of former hostages have symptoms consistent with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These seafarers are at higher risk of having poor overall well-being, as well.

• Being held hostage, more than any other type of piracy experience, leads to lasting effects. Many seafarers are exposed to different types of threats from pirates, ranging from the tensions of transiting through the high-risk areas to actually being attacked. Only hostage experiences are related to a significantly increased risk of PTSD.

• Seafarers are exposed to a fairly high number and degree of traumatic experiences in the course of their regular employment. The maritime environment is dangerous, and seafarers are regularly exposed to traumatic experiences other than piracy. These experiences have an independent impact on post-traumatic stress symptoms and can negatively affect seafarer well-being.

• Traumatic experiences impact the decisions seafarers make about their work. Seafarers with higher levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms are more likely to think about piracy when taking contracts, and more likely to have declined a job due to piracy risk.

• Families of hostages can have problems getting information about their loved ones, and many suffer lasting distress. Less than 50 percent of family members of hostages feel that they had good information about what was happening to their seafarer, and more than 30 percent of spouses of seafarers report that they have no idea how they would get information if something bad happened while their seafarer was at sea. A large minority of the family members of hostages show lasting behavioral effects from their experiences.

The findings are based on a series of interviews and structured surveys collected from 465 seafarers in three major seafaring countries: India, the Philippines and Ukraine. These seafarers included 101 former hostages and 364 non-hostages, and also 38 family members of seafarers.

Types of abuse

Most former hostages experienced multiple forms of abuse. To capture the rates of exposure to different kinds of abuse, the survey asked former hostages about what kinds of abuse they had suffered. Rates of abuse are listed below:

The Response

The report states that part of the response to maritime piracy should help seafarers prepare for potential exposure to pirate attack and cope with their experiences during and after the event. This should be an integrated response including pre-event planning and training and during event management as well as post-event support and care. Care for the families should also be an integral part of the response.

Post-event care should include social integration and support as well as targeted mental health support. All hostages will benefit from the former, and a minority will need the latter. Programs designed to mitigate the long-term impact of piracy should also support resilience in the face of other traumatic maritime events. 

In practice, addressing these issues will require a coordinated effort from seafarer support organizations, industry and states, says the report. This will require a corresponding increase in appreciation for the breadth and depth of the impact of piracy and other traumas on the seafarer population. However, the research also demonstrated that seafarers are a resilient community and suggests that with the development of more robust systems for support, this resilience can be reinforced.

The report is available here.