Faith groups in East Africa are offering counselling and aid to victims of sea piracy off the coast of Somalia, primarily in the Indian Ocean from the Gulf of Aden in the Arabia Sea to the Eastern Indian Ocean near the Mozambique Channel - writes Fredrick Nzwili.
"Seafarers who have encountered the pirates need counselling, spiritual nourishment and a place to rest. We offer them these services as well as give them an opportunity to contact their families," said Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of Mombasa, Kenya's main seaport.
On 19 October 2011, seven Kenyan fishermen were rescued by a German Navy ship after being lost at sea for ten days following an attack by pirates, while on 10 October pirates briefly hijacked an Italian ship off the Somali coast; it was rescued by British marines.
In September, pirates attacked a holiday resort on Kenya's north coast, abducting a 56-year-old British tourist and killing her husband. On 19 October, a 66-year-old French woman who was seized earlier from the northern resort island of Manda and taken to Somalia, died after they failed to access her regular medicines.
The pirates are currently demanding ransom to release her body. These incidents have led to losses of hundreds of jobs after tourists cancelled bookings.
"Some others have been abandoned by their ships, so we make arrangements for them to return to their home countries," said Kalu. His diocese offers a Mission to Seamen programme linked to the London-based Mission to Seafarers, a charity with bases in 230 seaports around the world that employs chaplains to work among sailors and merchant shipping crew.
In Kenya, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches have delivered aid to victims in homes, churches, church centres, and on ships.
According to the Rev Wilybard Lagho, Vicar General of the Mombasa Roman Catholic archdiocese, freed hostages require special services to help them overcome memories of torture and cruelty they faced as captives. "The victims require a tailored kind of service because they are extremely traumatised. Their families suffer excessive trauma once they hear a relative is in the hands of the pirates," he said.
Recently, the Kenyan Roman Catholic Church appointed a full-time coordinator to Utumishi wa Bahari, the Apostleship of the Sea program that counsels victims and their families. "We consider this a very critical service. Some seafarers become very lonely and need consoling," said coordinator George Sungu, who said the programme will soon start giving advice on starting and managing a small business for women or widows who become heads of families.
According to Sheikh Juma Ngao, General Secretary of the Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council, imams have been warning of the dangers of piracy. "We are showing how it (piracy) is affecting their lives. Once the bread-winners leave the families, hunger and poverty enters the homes," said Ngao.
Muslim leaders have carried out training for people who need to support themselves while family members are at sea, and counselling for piracy victims will be held in mosques.
Faith leaders, working under the Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics, recently began educating communities about money laundering after reports that ransom money was being invested along their coastline.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]