SAFETY AND SOCIAL MEDIA
TIPS ON STAYING SAFE AND SOCIAL AT SEA
one are the days when merchant seafarers had to buy and carry prepaid cards with which to call their families via the ship’s satellite phone. With more and more vessels allowing crews to connect to the internet via Wi-Fi, a good part of life at sea has changed. Video-chat and voice-call service Skype has revolutionised the way in which seafarers with access to broadband communicate with their friends and families. Those without the luxury of broadband can still access social networking sites – such as Facebook, Twitter, Friendster and Instagram – in the same way as their land-based counterparts. Facebook, for example, allows seafarers access to the posts, updates and photographs of their loved ones, and gives them the opportunity to communicate their news as well. Being able to communicate in such a free and spontaneous fashion brings many advantages, but there is always the need to stop and reflect before posting an update or photograph. Caution is required because, unfortunately, there are people out there who scour the internet for information that will allow them to commit a crime or facilitate a scam – or even stage a kidnapping. While security experts disagree on quite what level of threat there is to seafarers, it is best to be cautious and exercise care when it comes to what information you should put into the social media sphere. While it is wonderful to give friends and family real-time updates about plans, vessel routes and schedules, and expected shore visits, this is information that can be of value to criminals. Nobody wants to become paranoid, especially without good reason, but it is only by adopting and maintaining best practices that we can protect ourselves, colleagues, vessels and companies.
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One significant example that puts information displayed on social media platforms into perspective is the role that it may play in hostage-taking incidents in the Gulf of Guinea. While the problem of armed criminal gangs boarding vessels off the coast of Nigeria is nothing new, a worrying trend has emerged over the past three years: seafarers are being removed from their ships and taken ashore, from where a ransom demand is made to their employers. What makes this change more worrying, is that the gangs are choosing very carefully who to take ashore. The obvious choice is to select officers; however, the criminals are now being more precise in their selection and choosing seafarers who they perceive to be from richer nations. Once they have been taken ashore, another part of the gang will begin to search for useful information. The victims may be forced to give their social media log-ons and passwords, allowing the gang to access their profiles to acquire elements useful in negotiations. A new car, a photograph of a large house, or an expensive or elaborate gift, or images taken at a party held in an expensive restaurant are all signs of wealth – and, as such, help the gang formulate a ransom request and strategy. This scenario is a little extreme, but it is a practical example of just how the information stored and shared on social media sites can be used to a criminal’s advantage. The same holds true for information about a ship’s cargo, the schedule of ports of call, details of life on board and plans for shore leave. There is no magic wand that will keep us all safe, but there are several things you should consider when using social media:
While it is wonderful to give friends and family real-time updates about plans and shore visits, this information can be of value to criminals
• Don’t share your location or future destinations via social media – tell family and friends via email or Skype
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