New initiative supports traumatised piracy victims

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A programme to help sailors and their families cope with the trauma caused by the growing phenomenon of hijackings by pirates was launched on Thursday.

The Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme is billed as the first combined global effort to fight "one of the foremost threats facing the international shipping community today".

The organisers said crews were facing increasing levels of violence from predominantly Somali pirates, describing them as "sea terrorists".

Industry groups including shipowner organisations and trade unions have joined with intergovernmental bodies to create the programme, which aims to support the 100,000 seafarers who sail in or towards pirate waters each week.

According to monitoring group Ecoterra, Somali pirates are currently holding at least 49 vessels and more than 500 people hostage.

Dr Peter Swift, chairman of the programme, said pirate attacks on civilian sailors were still being largely ignored in the West.

"Piracy is still very low-profile worldwide because its not an issue for most of the Western world. Most of the seafarers that have been held are from the developing world, principally countries like the Philippines, India and Ukraine."

Acts of piracy hit an all-time high in the first three months of 2011 according to data from the International Maritime Bureau.

Programme manager Paul Roy said: "Today, seafarers are meeting pirates who are really sea terrorists: hard, desperate and violent criminals."

Chirag Bahri, who was held hostage by pirates for eight months on a chemical tanker, described being badly beaten and subjected to mental torture, in an emotional appearance at the launch.

Bahri has not yet been able to return to his job.

Dr Marion Gibson, a medical consultant for the programme, said it would provide a "continuum of care" for victims like Bahri.

"Much is being done to 'harden' ships against attacks so that there will be less physical damage to the vessels... This programme is about doing the same for the human beings involved."

© 2011 AFP

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