International Summit on Pan-African Piracy

Mar 4, 2016

by the Rev. David M. Rider, President & Executive Director

Recently, I represented the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) at a 30-person Pan-African Maritime Security Workshop co-sponsored by the US Department of State and Oceans Beyond Piracy. The meeting convened government and industry specialists to address ongoing challenges. Over two days, we engaged in dialogue addressing recent trends, root causes and vexing questions of Pan-African piracy.

Pan-African piracy occurs in a part of the world besieged with difficulties. Many countries operate under a fragile (at best) rule-of-law and grinding shore-side poverty. Maritime crimes—like human smuggling, drug trafficking, illegal fishing, environmental pollution and organized crime—go unabated due to incompetent or corrupt coastal enforcement and shore-side criminal prosecution. While piracy in East Africa (e.g., Somalia) has witnessed a reduction in successful hijackings (thanks to a successful multi-national coalition), piracy on the western side of the continent has spiked.

West African ships typically become vulnerable while waiting at anchorage to discharge oil. Experts believe that recent plummeting oil prices have caused West African pirates to pivot from cargo theft to kidnap/ransom demands. In contrast to the extended negotiations with East African pirates for an entire crew’s ransom, West African pirates typically hold only a ship’s Master hostage and seek lower ransom prices for quicker payments. While piracy and maritime robbery have nuanced legal distinctions, both put seafarers at high risk for injury—or worse.

While East African piracy cases have reduced dramatically, little has changed shore-side to address the root causes. Attempts to strengthen security and criminal enforcement in territorial waters have proven elusive at best. Likewise, governments and others have failed to reduce poverty ashore and eliminate illegal fishing. For the time being, an international coalition in the Indian Ocean keeps piracy at bay, but high costs and competing priorities could unravel any real stability over the long term.

For both East and West African piracy, all planning looks beyond a 10-year horizon. On the bright side, a trusting and mutually respectful coalition of multi-national private- and public-sector partners works successfully to combat piracy’s scourge. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) does yeoman’s work—both on criminal enforcement and the humanitarian side, transporting seafarers released from hostage situations.

I made a presentation on SCI’s collaboration with other seafarer welfare organizations to mitigate stressors seafarers experience when transiting high-risk areas, evading piracy attacks, enduring hostage situations, recovering after release and returning to work at some future time.

Moving forward, I advocated that we can work together to

  1. empower seafarers transiting high-risk areas with pre-departure training
  2. work harder to resolve active-hostage situations to minimize trauma and potential loss of life
  3. invoke careful post-hostage assessment and culturally sensitive treatment to minimize damage and return the seafarer toward pre-hostage functioning
  4. employ cognitive-behavioral strategies to help seafarers manage stress and anxiety/depression symptoms after family reunification
  5. ensure competent pathways back to sea for those who choose it, pathways that balance fitness-for-duty assessment with advocacy

These resources work both for piracy and other job-related stressors like ship fires, man-overboard experience, severe weather, witnessing fatal on-board injuries or suicides, and other acts of physical aggression. SCI aims to remain a leader in helping seafarers secure successful careers at sea and lead healthy, enjoyable lives. We will continue to work with government and industry partners to create favorable conditions in the maritime workplace to protect and support mariners.