Urgent need for conflict resolution following spate of knife attacks at sea

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The international maritime charity, Sailor’s Society, is urging ship owners to embrace conflict resolution training as a necessary response to a growing incidence of knife attacks at sea.

Sailors’ Society’s CEO Stuart Rivers said, “The tragic news, that two people were killed on board a vessel in the Indian Ocean and six people are missing, is the latest in a spate of stabbings at sea and our thoughts are with those affected.”

Most recently, two fishermen were stabbed to death aboard the Taiwanese longliner Wen Peng in the Indian Ocean, as other crew either jumped overboard or barricaded themselves in to assure their safety.

The incident onboard the Wen Peng comes in the aftermath of three seafarers were injured in an incident off Guyana on 28 January, as well an attack on the master, onboard the Aframax crude oil tanker, STI Guard, while off the island of Reunion in the first week of February 2019.

Tarun Kumar of Scorpio Marine Management (Mumbai) noted that the master that had been was evacuated in time and was now in stable condition. He emphasised that the company’s concern remains primarily for the safety of the crew onboard, and the Scorpio Group was continuing to co-operate with authorities to ascertain the trigger and repercussions of the incident for all involved before taking further steps.

The abrupt rise in knife attacks suggests that these are unlikely to be isolated events, and has raised calls for an urgent need to address the situation through preventative measures. Crew training in conflict resolution and de-escalation, alongside of additional wellness at sea programmes (including recent guidelines by The UK Chamber of Shipping, Nautilus International, and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) to address issues specific to seafarer mental health and wellbeing) offer multifaceted approaches to the crisis at hand.

Notably, the Sailors’ Society’s Wellness at Sea programme (with companion app) offers training in crisis resolution as part of their work to improve the onboard wellbeing of seafarers. They are also part of a global Crisis Response Network aimed at providing trauma care and counselling to survivors of piracy attacks, natural disasters, and crises at sea. “Our chaplains reach out to 1,000 seafarers every day in ports around the world, they know just how hard life at sea can be for these men and women and support them through a variety of crises,” said Rivers.