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The Psychological Impact of Piracy: Seafarers taken prisoner by pirates have disproportionately high rates of post-traumatic stress

The Psychological Impact of Piracy: A recent study shows that seafarers taken prisoner by pirates have disproportionately high rates of post-traumatic stress.
Ian Evans Jan 3, 2018

Working at sea has always been dangerous, but this is especially true for the men and women who experience piracy, often in hot spots near Somalia and, increasingly, West Africa. From 1984 to 2016 there were 7,567 incidents of reported piracy or armed robbery, according to the International Maritime Organization(, and 221 incidents in 2016 alone.

Seafarers caught by pirates and especially those taken hostage for an extended period of time may be shot at, threatened and beaten, or witness their colleagues being killed—and a growing body of research documents the lasting mental health effects of these experiences.

In a recent paper ( published in the journal Marine Policy, an international team of researchers investigated how common the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are among seafarers who have been taken hostage by pirates compared to those who haven't been exposed to piracy. After surveying more than 450 seafarers from the Philippines, Ukraine, and India—three nations that supply much of the maritime workforce—the team found that more than one-quarter of former hostages had lasting symptoms consistent with PTSD whereas non-hostages had a 4 percent chance of symptoms.

Conor Seyle, a psychologist and the director of research at One Earth Future, a group that runs the program Oceans Beyond Piracy, is the lead author on the paper. Oceans Deeply spoke with Seyle about how PTSD is understood within the maritime industry and what steps can be taken to support seafarers who experience pirate attacks.