Click here for the Filipino version. 

Herbert Brazil, 50

I can’t walk straight. I need two operations on my spine. And because of ammonia exposure, I sometimes find it hard to breathe.

A seaman’s life is fraught with danger, especially for those who work in oil tankers. I’m from Cebu and I’ve been on 14 cruises since ’89. A long time working on ships, mostly as an oiler.

Worldwide, ammonia is used to fertilize farms. We were transporting a load off the coast of Mexico in 2014 when our ship’s chemical alarms went off. It happened so fast. One moment we were working. The next, we were choking and crying because we thought we were goners. Thank God we got up and out safely.

Off the coast of East Africa, commercial ships would travel in large convoys to deter pirates. I was working by a generator when a 200-pound cylinder lid slipped and fell. I reached out to stop it from crushing my foot, but my back just couldn’t take the strain. As you can see, I still can’t walk right. I used to get around with a cane but I lost it. Now I’m on partial disability. Seafaring can be a risky business – but there’s something I’m really looking forward to – a program called IMO 6.09, which lets veteran seafarers become maritime instructors. I hope to get in, to teach others what not to do. So they won’t have to go through what I did.

A new visual series by Seafarer Asia, Kumusta, Kabaro? Kumusta, Kaibigan? gives viewers gritty glimpses into the lives of Filipino seafarers and their kin. True tales of love, pride, sacrifice, failure and success weave a living tapestry and an oral history of life at sea. The subjects are given free rein on what to share and how they wish to be photographed. The series is inspired by the popular photoblog, Humans of New York.

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Gregg Yan

Gregg Yan is an award-winning writer and photographer who covers marginalized groups and environmental conservation issues. His work has been featured by National Geographic, Discovery Channel, CNN plus over a dozen books – including Into the Wild, his first coffee table book. He also has a monthly magazine column on wildlife.