You are here

The Lonely and Dangerous Life of the Filipino Seafarer

Philippines Dispatch: The Lonely and Dangerous Life of the Filipino Seafarer
Aurora Almendral Nov. 30, 2019

The Philippines for decades has supplied the largest share of labor on the world’s cargo ships. Filipino culture is brought aboard, from food to song and sports.

ABOARD THE UBC CYPRUS IN THE NORTH PACIFIC — On his first ocean voyage seven years ago, Jun Russel Reunir was sent deep into the bowels of a cargo ship, where he shoveled iron ore until his muscles ached — then continued shoveling for a dozen hours more.

“I cried in my cabin three times that month,” Mr. Reunir said.

Filipinos like Mr. Reunir, now 27, have for decades powered the global shipping industry, helping to move 90 percent of global trade.

A few months ago, he and 18 other Filipino men crewed a cement carrier traveling from Japan to the Philippines.

For a visitor along for the ride, the ocean voyage meant fresh sensations. The sound of the waves drowned out by the roar of the engines. The deck scattered with dead flying fish after a storm. The breeze filled with the smell of cheap bunker fuel.
Sign up for The Interpreter

Subscribe for original insights, commentary and discussions on the major news stories of the week, from columnists Max Fisher and Amanda Taub.

But for the seamen, perhaps the only thing worse than the repetitive drudgery of their harsh labor was the boredom that came when they were done, any romance with the sea long since faded.