David Van der Heyden

Ghent, Belgium



Behind the Music

Beriberi is a disease afflicting ship workers forced to remain at sea for long periods of time, where they have little access to vitamin B1 in their daily meals. It is often caused by a diet limited to mainly white rice, instant noodles, or wheat flour. Symptoms of the disease include tingling, burning, numbness, difficulty breathing, lethargy, chest pain, dizziness, confusion, and severe swelling. Left untreated, it can lead to death.

David Van der Heyden produced a musical tribute to beriberi victims. “The emotions and themes that I'm hoping to capture with this track is to represent the pain and suffering that these people are going through,” said Van der Heyden.

Beriberi is prevalent on Chinese distant water fishing vessels. This disturbing trend is facilitated by transshipment, an increasingly common practice which allows ships to offload their catch to refrigeration vessels without returning to shore. 

“Our job is to bring this to the surface and hope that people become aware of what's going on far away in these deep waters,” Van der Heyden said.

Beriberi cases are often an indication of deprivation and captivity, because they are avoidable and easily reversed. Some countries require that rice and flour be supplemented with vitamin B1, but this is not the case in China. The illness can also be treated with vitamin pills, but many ships don’t carry them. When vitamin B1 is administered intravenously, patients typically recover within twenty-four hours. Unfortunately, however, many captains often refuse to transport sick crew members to shore for treatment because of the expense and time required to do so.

“The reporting [on this issue] has taught me that we need more respect for these deck hands and more should be done, such as getting governments involved to find a solution,” Van der Heyden said. 

David Van der Heyden
About David Van der Heyden

David Van der Heyden grew up in a musical family in Belgium and was encouraged to play drums and piano at a very young age. In adulthood, he worked as a legal advisor at a bank. Later, he quit his job to become a full-time producer, indulging his passion for music. In his formative years as a producer, Van der Heyden created hip hop beats under the artist name “Lavito.” In 2023, he began releasing new songs under his given name, David Van der Heyden.

Winner of the 2021 Scripps Howard Award for Excellence in Innovation in Journalism

The Journalism behind the Music

All music in this project is based on The Outlaw Ocean, a New York Times Best-Selling book by Ian Urbina that chronicles lawlessness at sea around the world. This reporting touches on a diversity of abuses ranging from illegal and overfishing, arms trafficking at sea, human slavery, gun running, intentional dumping, murder of stowaways, thievery of ships and other topics.

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