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Story On The Filipino Seaman Shows How His Sacrifice Powers The Global Economy
PHOTO BY Andy Li/Unsplash
  • Seafarer will be the first to say that it’s not easy living on a ship for months on end, but it means an easier life for their families back home. In fact, Filipino seafarers are powering our economy, according to a 2019 The New York Times (NYT) article. About 400,000 of the world’s 1.6 million seafarers are Filipino, and in 2018 alone, these workers sent US$6 billion back to the Philippines in remittances.

    On a global level, these Filipino seafarers “have for decades powered the global shipping industry, helping to move 90 percent of global trade,” the article adds.

    Filipino seafarers take on different positions and work titles on a ship from unloading cargoes to being captains of the vessel. Whatever requirement their job entails, one thing is true: They earn bigger the farther they are from land.

    “They left behind lives in provincial villages where they could expect to make $100 a month. They earn 10 times that amount, often more, at sea,” the NYT article reads.

    In the process of earning, the seafarers are able to support whole and extended families, send children to school, and build their dream houses.

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    The phenomenon of hiring Filipino seafarers began in the late 70s to early 80s when maritime regulation began to allow foreign workers on ships. That time most European owned businesses hired Filipinos because they spoke English, are Christians and accepted lower pay. But historically, too, Filipinos have built a nautical legacy, according to an article in The Atlantic. From the 16th through the 19th century, Filipinos were ordered into servitude on Spanish galleons, and in the 1800s, they helped man American whaling ships.”


    Given the number of Filipino seafarers around the world, it is no wonder that Filipino culture dominates cargo ships around the world. To fight the lonely life at sea, they bring with them the most Filipino of entertainment to remind them of home. The same NYT article enumerates Saturday night Karaoke sessions, games of bastketball, even roasting whole pigs on deck as activities that Pinoys regularly do to pass the time but more importantly, the article adds, to cope with the mental strains caused by isolation.

    Perhaps among all the activities on deck, getting a WiFi signal is their best antidote to loneliness. According to the NYT article, the men are given a free allotment of only 50MB to download on the ship but this only allows them a quick look at Facebook before the data gets used up.

    Filipino seafarers sometimes stay as long as 10 months straight at sea and in the process miss witnessing many milestones of their families back home such as the birth or first birthday of their child. In return for this sacrifice, however, they get to financially support their family and have an opportunity to dream bigger. And these dreams, more often than not, have something to do with going home, being with family, and being far from the sea. As one seaman on board tells NYT, he dreams of “buying some farmland and raising goats and pigs in the town where he grew up.”

    For tips on how to raise children while working outside the country, click here.

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