Forget about Captain Hook, Captain Jack Sparrow, hidden treasures and swashbuckling heroes.
Modern-day pirates are nothing like the romantic depictions we are so used to seeing in films and reading about in story books.
Nowadays pirates carry AK-47 rifles and use speed boats to board gas tankers and ships, sometimes hijacking a vessel to steal cargo or to use crew as ransom.
These pirates are capable of carrying out well-planned and violent attacks, leaving ship crew members injured or, worse still, dead.
One region currently considered a piracy hotspot is the Gulf of Guinea, which accounted for nearly half (43 percent) of all reported piracy incidents in the first three months of 2021, according to global piracy watchdog, ICC International Maritime Bureau, The area also accounted for all 40 incidents of crew kidnaps, as well as the sole crew fatality, during the same period.
Recognising the severity of the situation and the impact this is having on the safety and lives of many seafarers – not to mention their families – the global shipping community came together in May to initiate the Gulf of Guinea Declaration on the Suppression of Piracy.
By signing up, signatories commit to, among other things, supporting anti-piracy law enforcement as mandated by international law, and efforts by non-regional naval forces to provide a capable incident response capability to complement regional coastal states’ anti-piracy law enforcement operations.
Stella Maris (formerly known as Apostleship of the Sea), the Catholic Church’s maritime charity, has joined in this call to end the threat of piracy in the region.
The organisation has signed the declaration, demonstrating its commitment to eradicating the scourge of piracy.
Stella Maris’s international network director, Fr Bruno Ciceri, who signed the declaration, says: “We fully support the efforts by all parties in the fight against piracy. It is unacceptable that seafarers, unsung heroes who keep world trade moving, continue to be subjected to pirate attacks. Aside from disrupting the global economy, the persistent threat of danger and harm puts considerable stress on seafarers and their families.”
In 2020, Stella Maris chaplains supported seafarers in three piracy cases, providing vital pastoral care to the crew members affected by the attacks. In one case in Lagos, Nigeria, the charity’s chaplains boarded a ship following an attack at sea to meet with the crew members.
The crew had been left extremely traumatised, and the support provided by Stella Maris helped allay their fears and anxieties.
Stella Maris hopes governments and enforcement agencies will be able to find a more permanent and long-term solution to the problem of piracy and bring the perpetrators to justice.
“We urge hijacked seafarers and fishers not to lose hope that they will be soon reunited with their loved ones and to remain strong in their faith. Families of the hijacked seafarers and fishers can also contact us for assistance and support.
“We encourage the faithful to pray to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, to protect seafarers and fishers from all dangers and to support those who have been, and continue to be, affected by piracy,” says Fr Bruno.
As churches prepare to celebrate Sea Sunday on 11 July, a day to remember and thank seafarers and fishers for the vital part they play in bringing us goods and food. Please remember these key workers in prayer and support Stella Maris’s Sea Sunday appeal. For more information, and to make a donation, go to www.stellamaris.org.uk/donate/
Martin Foley has been Chief Executive of Stella Maris since 2010. Previously he was Chief Executive at Life, a support and advocacy charity. Martin says: “I am proud to lead Stella Maris. It’s a privilege to work with our port chaplains and ship visitors, here in the UK and overseas. Their inspirational work makes a real difference to the lives of seafarers, fishers and their families around the world.” Formed in October 1920 in Glasgow, Stella Maris was established to support seafarers in need. A century later, the charity is the largest ship visiting network in the world, providing seafarers with practical and pastoral support, information, and a friend in times of need.