Caring in Crisis Caring in Crisis

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Caring in Crisis

By Alexander Dimitrevich

Alexander Dimitrevich is a clinical psychologist and Sailors’ Society’s Crisis Response (Ukraine) programme coordinator.
Alexander Dimitrevich is a clinical psychologist and Sailors’ Society’s Crisis Response (Ukraine) programme coordinator.

Sailors’ Society’s Crisis Response Network supports those affected by traumatic events at sea. With hubs in Asia, South Africa and Europe, the network is able to offer support to seafarers and their family members through its trained chaplains.

In many countries, a career at sea remains an attractive prospect. However, it is still one of the most dangerous careers.

Seafarers face a difficult working environment, isolation and a variety of stressors.

The Crisis Response Network has helped abandoned, imprisoned and kidnapped seafarers, while also supporting their relatives back home.

Occasionally, Sailors’ Society chaplains have to administer bereavement counselling as they break life changing news to families.

They use a holistic approach, which can include humanitarian, psychological and spiritual support and every case presents a unique challenge.

After almost four years of imprisonment, the Seaman Guard Ohio crew was released. Sailors’ Society was able to support and reunite families affected by this emotionally overwhelming event.

Piracy and armed robberies remain major threats to seafarers’ well-being.

Seafarers caught up in piracy and hostage situations may be assaulted, shot at and even witness colleagues being killed. There is growing research that highlights the long-lasting effects that these sort of traumatic incidents have on mental health.

I was part of an international research team led by Ocean Beyond Piracy’s Conor Seyle, which investigated how common post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms are in seafarers who have been taken hostage by pirates, compared to those not exposed to piracy.

More than 450 seafarers from the Philippines, Ukraine and India – nations which supply much of the maritime workforce – took part in the survey, which found that more than a quarter of former hostages had lasting symptoms consistent with PTSD.

Non-hostages had a four per cent chance of symptoms.


Of the 450 seafarers surveyed:

25 per cent – were injured

26 per cent – saw a colleague killed

58 per cent – were beaten

87 per cent – were threatened with execution

100 per cent – suffered abuse in captivity


Whether PTSD symptoms are from piracy or an accident, seafarers carry these feelings with them.

Around 80 per cent of trauma survivors who receive support are coping well.

One of the roles of the Crisis Response Network is to raise mental health awareness within the maritime industry and highlight invisible injuries can be just as hard to cope with as physical ones.

Research shows that untreated PTSD leads to poor workplace performance and that prior training in coping mechanisms can reduce the impact of traumatic incidents.

Wellness at Sea training includes self and situational awareness tips, coping techniques, psychological first aid, conflict management, suicide prevention and many other modules.

Sailors’ Society supports seafarers and their families and helps companies train their crews to understand the risks and behavioral impacts, improving their bottom line in terms of their efficiency or effectiveness, safety and well-being.