Jul 312009

On August 2, Douglas B. Stevenson, of the Seaman’s Church Institute, will embark on an eight-day journey that will take him through “Pirate Alley,” the pirate infested waters off the coast of Somalia, as a guest aboard the cargo ship, Maersk Idaho.

As the director of SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights, the world’s only full-time, free legal-aid program for merchant mariners, Stevenson is embarking on this journey to learn firsthand about the experience of sailors who routinely travel pirate-infested waters.

“SCI has a commitment to seafarers’ well-being,” said Stevenson, in a news release. “We want to make sure that we understand what is happening to them so that we can offer them every support they need.”

Stevenson plans to share his observations in real-time via the Twitter instant-messaging website. Follow him here. In addition to his research, Stevenson hopes his journey also will draw attention to the work of professional seafarers.

Media attention focused on “Pirate Alley” in April when pirates seized the Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship owned by the U.S.-based Maersk Line Ltd. and held its captain, Richard Phillips, hostage at gunpoint for five days. U.S. Navy Seals rescued Phillips on April 12.

SCI honored Phillips with its first Courage at Sea Award in June. It was during the planning of the award ceremony for Phillips that Stevenson and Maersk sailors conceived of the trip, said Oliver Brewer, SCI’s media contact, in a telephone interview.

The data Stevenson will collect and his observations will also contribute to a clinical study of piracy’s effects on merchant mariners and their families that is being conducted by SCI in conjunction with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. The first of its kind in the maritime industry, the study explores the clinical assessment and treatment of piracy attack survivors.

Somalia pirates have carried out hundreds of attacks this year, and more are feared as monsoon season comes to an end. More than 25,000 merchant ships pass through the Gulf of Aden annually, according to news reports.

Stevenson will depart from Port Said in northeastern Egypt through the Gulf of Aden, aka “Pirate Alley,” en route to the United Arab Emirates’ port city Dubai.

When asked whether he was afraid, Stevenson said: “I have great confidence in Maersk Idaho’s security arrangements and in the competence of its crew.”

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