The Threat of Piracy - What is the effect on seafarers?

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What is it like to live with the risk of being attacked by pirates as part of everyday life on board a ship that sails through High Risk Zones? How are behaviour and health affected? Through a new PhD project, SEAHEALTH zooms in for the first time on the human consequences connected to the threat of piracy.

SEAHEALTH, in collaboration with Copenhagen University and with financial support from the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation, has hired anthropologist Adrienne Mannov to conduct research on how the threat of piracy is perceived and experienced by seafaring professionals and how these threats affect their worklife.


SEAHEALTH has already become involved with the problem by providing acute psychological care to those sailors who have been subjected to a piracy attack. Through this research project, a thorough investigation will be conducted about what piracy means for mariners and for the industry.


Anthropologist Adrienne Mannov explains, “You read a lot about piracy in the media, and on the political level, there is now a heightened awareness. But there isn’t a lot of research on modern piracy. The projects that do exist, either focus on the political context within the countries that the pirates come from or they address the legal challenges that accompany piracy.”


There are already several practices in place within the industry that address the problem, such as Best Management Practices 4, new standards for armed guards, the Danish government’s loosening of firearms laws and international Navy operations in the Indian Ocean region. But how does the problem influence everyday work on board the ships?


The fellow PhD project will stretch over a 3-year period and seafarers who work for Danish merchant shipping companies are the main research focus.  With the global workplace as a point of departure, fieldwork will be carried out where the sailors and their employers are active, such as on board, within shipping companies, trade unions and crewing companies.

Razor-wire and Relations

The threat of piracy threats has changed some of the work routines that seafarers perform and this can be meaningful for how threats and danger are perceived and dealt with.

”When a sailor is asked to secure razor-wire around the perimeter of the ship and he sees this razor-wire there everyday, what affect – if any – does this have on his ability to deal with danger? What does this and other practices mean for the individual’s ability to sail through high risk zones again and again? What role does the sailor’s personal relations – and their perception of the problem – play in how he experiences a profession that, within a short period of time, has come to be characterized by a different and threatening context? These are some of the themes I’ll be looking into”, Adrienne Mannov explains.

The purpose of the project is not to uncover mistakes, but to gain deeper insight into the social and cultural circumstances connected to piracy threats and what these mean for the individual seafarer and for the industry. By focusing on the seafarers and the institutional framework around them, this research project will contribute with nuanced and thorough analyses of the problem.

“Seafarers bring their own personal stories with them on board and nationality and cultural background means something for how be behave, particularly when we’re under pressure”, Mannov adds.




SEAHEALTH will form a group that will follow the project. In addition, we are interested in making contact with anyone who feels that piracy is a relevant problem for their work – you can be a sailor, a ship owner, or someone who is affected by piracy in some way.

It is also possible to financially support research activities within the project. Reference to the project will be accompanied by your company/foundation’s name or logo. You can get more information about the project by writing to


  • 90% of all goods are transported on ships, and Danish shipping companies represent ca. 10% of global maritime transportation.
  • Since the establishment of the Suez Canal in 1869, seafaring merchants have been able to access Europe, India and Asia, without having to circumnavigate the African continent. With the outbreak of the Somali civil war in 1991, and particularly from the mid 00’s, modern piracy – an almost exclusively Somali phenomenon – has made this route increasingly dangerous.
  • The ship’s crew transports all kinds of commodities, from coal, food and even emergency supplies destined for Somalia, but for pirates, seafarers are potential commodities themselves. Somali piracy is not defined as terrorism. It is a lucrative industry and one of the most valuable ‘products’ a pirate can acquire is a human being, particularly if a large ransom may be secured in exchange for his/her release.
  • Piracy off the coast of Nigeria, although of a different character, is of growing concern. Here, pirates tend to me more interested in the ship’s cargo and not the crew, which does not make sailing through this region less dangerous for mariners. This theme will also be addressed in this project.