Sailors’ Society’s Crisis Response Centre supports seafarers affected by piracy


Sailors’ Society, one of the largest seafarer support charities operating internationally, has launched a Crisis Response Centre to support seafarers in need throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The Durban-based Centre offers a rapid response service to assist traumatised seafarers after piracy attacks and other crisis-at-sea situations. A comprehensive network of trained port chaplains, drawn from a range of maritime welfare agencies, provides a 24-hour service in South Africa, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique and Reunion.

Reverend Boet van Schalkwyk is heading up the Centre, which was launched alongside the Sailors’ Society Wellness at Sea programme at the International Maritime Lecturers’ Association (IMLA) Annual Conference on 1 July. Some of the activities the Centre has been involved in since then include dealing with a medical emergency and conducting two follow-up visits.

Reverend van Schalkwyk, CEO of Sailors’ Society South Africa, said the Centre was developed in response to an evolving trend in seafarer demand.
“We were finding that traumatised crews were no longer being dispatched to Durban after their release, which raised fears that they were being repatriated before receiving front-line trauma counselling. By making this resource available, we can meet this need for seafarers as near after an incident as possible”.

The recent Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) report on the State of Maritime Piracy reported that at least 5,000 seafarers were attacked in the Gulf of Guinea, the Western Indian Ocean, and Southeast Asia in 2014, and drew attention to West Africa noting that “Gulf of Guinea piracy continues at unacceptable levels”.

Research by OBP found that seafarers could exhibit symptoms similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder simply passing through areas at high risk of piracy, making the need for Centre’s services as vital as ever, the Centre said.

Sailors’ Society’s sub-Saharan network of port chaplains have undertaken the Traumatic Incident Response (TIR) and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP) Welfare Responders’ courses in order to be fully equipped to provide appropriate and effective care.

The service reaches traumatised crews by flying in a mobile call-out team to assist local chaplains to care for victims of piracy and other incidents at sea in the Western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Guinea ports. Chaplains liaise with other welfare and emergency agencies to ensure a joined-up service.

The Crisis Response Centre, situated at Sailors’ Society South Africa’s headquarters in Westville, Durban, will also conduct research into the continuing activities of pirates on the east and west coastlines of Africa and deliver ongoing trauma care training for chaplains.

The Centre has 18 responders in its network and one part time Operations Assistant who conducts research, data gathering and assists with call-outs and interpreters.

The Sailors’ Society Crisis Response Centre can be contacted as follows: 24-hour emergency response no: +27 83 301 8022