Perspectives from the Invisible Workforce: Lessons Learned for the Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia

Adrienne Mannov, University of Copenhagen and Seahealth Denmark.

The shipping industry is often referred to as the Invisible Industry. Although 90% of all goods are transported by sea, many consumers are not aware of the industry’s significance in our lives. Even more compelling, most are not aware of the people who move these goods. Thus, the Invisible Workforce may be a more accurate title. In this article, I discuss these invisible workers and their perceptions of maritime piracy and how their perceptions may be useful to the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS).

More specifically, I discuss how seafarers conceptualize the threat, including geographical focus and the role that their governments, labor unions and employers play in protecting them. These perspectives are based on 16 months of ethnographic research on board with crews who pass through piracy areas and among seafarers, their families and the maritime organizations around them on land in Denmark, the Ukraine, India and the Philippines. In addition, I include perspectives gathered from The Seamen’s Church Institute of NY & NJ and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program, organizations both affiliated with the CGPCS. Both of these organizations emerged as significant actors in the field, and their work, where relevant, will be addressed in this article as well.

The project is a collaboration between Seahealth Denmark and the Department of Anthropology at Copenhagen University. Seahealth Denmark and the Danish government funded the project. Despite this Danish point of departure, the majority of the individuals and organizations that contributed their perspectives to the research are not Danish and do not have any particular stake in the Danish shipping industry. As such, this article offers a broad perspective from seafarers on their perception of piracy threats and how these might be helpful to the CGPCS’s continued work. The Lessons Learned Project asked me to contribute these perspective in the hopes that they will add value to the ongoing work of the CGPCS. You can read the full paper here.

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