Survival in the High Seas

Loneliness, long periods of isolation, and the risk of kidnapping and piracy are the occupational hazards that come with making a living in the high seas. 

Perhaps no one knows this better than the Filipino seafarer. 

With a rich maritime history that dates back to the Galleon Trade during the Spanish colonial era, the Philippines is the world’s leading supplier of seafarers. 

Filipino sailors are deckhands and merchant marines on cargo vessels that transport 90 percent of global trade through the world’s sealanes. They are migrant fishermen who leave behind their families to catch tuna, squid, and crabs in the high seas. Often, more than a year goes by before these transnational fishers feel land beneath their feet. 

The dominance of Filipino seafarers is widely acknowledged. The Economist reported that if Filipino mariners suddenly all decided to stay home, “the world economy would convulse” while folklore says that there is no ship that sails without a Filipino seafarer on it.

Because of this distinction, stories of ocean distress are likely to involve Filipino seafarers. 

When countries sealed ports and closed borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19, leaving thousands of seafarers stranded at sea for months, the International Transport Federation reported that the most number of seafarers assisted were from the Philippines. 

At the height of kidnapping by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, the Philippine government reported that a Filipino seafarer was kidnapped every six hours. 

Often these stories end when these sailors are rescued from their ocean lockdown or released from their hostage takers. 

However, according to trauma experts, once they are freed, the true test of surviving the dangers of the high seas is going back to a normal life on land.

Ocean Lockdown: Filipino Seafarers Face Perils, Death at Sea

Part 1: Long-haul fishing is notorious for its exploitative working and deplorable living conditions. Solitary months in the high seas place crew at the mercy of extreme weather disturbances and at risk of physical abuse by malevolent captains.