Seafarer resilience captured in Still at Sea photo competition

21 September 2020

The ITF Seafarers Trust photo competition gives a face to the all-too-easily forgotten seafarers who are still onboard, often months past their original contracts, due to pandemic crew change restrictions. These brave men and women are the real #HeroesAtSea, say the competition organisers

Six months on from the beginning of the pandemic, still less than 35% of crew changes are taking place. That's according to the International Chamber of Shipping – and what it means is hundreds of thousands of seafarers still at sea, with no certainty about when they may go home. The international maritime community is campaigning for recognition of seafarers as key workers.

Still at Sea, the ITF Seafarers' Trust (ITFST) photography competition, was launched on 25 August 2020 to put a face and a visual context to the crewing crisis. Seafarers are invited to share their images of the highs and lows – and the spaces in between – of life at sea during Covid-19 up to the end of September.

'Photography these days is a very democratic art form – most people have really good quality cameras in their phones so there are few barriers to entry. The idea is to share the immediate, direct experience of seafarers with the general public that benefits enormously from the services of seafarers without being conscious of their existence,' head of ITFST Katie Higginbottom said.

Dipping into the submissions received by early September, the overwhelming response is one of resilience and positivity in the face of extraordinary demands. Seafarers are clearly longing to go home but at the same time proud of their work, awed by the immensity of their natural environment and grateful for moments of shared camaraderie.

Behind the photos are the stories people don't hear and lives they don't see John Mark Dulnuan, competition entrant
Callout Image

Still at Sea competition deadline

The closing date for submissions is 30 September 2020 and winners will be announced on 31 October 2020. The winning photographer will be awarded a prize of £1,000 GBP.

Submit an entry

Faces behind the photos

Tim Isada

Tim Isada

As days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months we are being isolated in the ship. Our flights have been cancelled numerous times.

But I never lose hope that we will get that most awaited flight to come back home. It was the most complicated time to go home.

As US ports raise restrictions, we decided to set sail to Europe in order to send people home. Traveling two weeks across the Atlantic Ocean from port Canaveral to Dover, England.

I have this memorable picture watching the white cliffs of Dover.

Things will be in place one day. Let's keep our faith and never lose hope.

'Hope' by Tim Isada, shows the white cliffs of Dover through the porthole of the lower decks he normally inhabits 

I decided to join the competition to share some of my photos in order to remind people that there are good things you can do onboard while on stand-by waiting to disembark (actually, it has been a productive time for me).

That four months being stuck on the ship, I had the chance to see the sunrise and sunsets which I don't normally see as I am in the lower deck without portholes.

Downtime was used to make facemasks

Loving that beautiful scenery every day, it's a string of hope for the next day to come.

One of the things that I have learned is to make face masks. Using my downtime, I have made personalised face masks to give to some of my colleagues that need one. It was very rewarding as I help people in my own little ways.

May that kindness and uplifting spirit be in our hearts during this uncertainty. Stay safe and God bless us all!


John Mark Dulnuan

The photo was taken on 9 June, 2020 right after we conducted our six-monthly fire hose testing, I invited my colleagues to have a groupie to have something to remember the moment, especially for our two cadets – it being their first shipboard experience amidst the pandemic – that despite no shore leave we can still find ways to enjoy and unwind from our daily mundane tasks. It's a reminder of good camaraderie!

I had already been onboard eight months and was supposed to sign off by April but wasn't able to due to the restrictions put in place by countries we were heading to. As a result, I had no choice but to extend my contract until further notice.

'Look up: it’s a plane, but we ain't going home' by John Mark Dulnuan

This pandemic really hits me hard because I was expecting to be home sooner and have planned already where and when to spend my vacation with my loved ones but all of a sudden it's gone. Working on a ship is a promising career yet alongside it is the unseen reality of our life onboard especially during this time of pandemic.

Somehow, I thanked God for sustaining my strength daily to continue working, though it is exhausting and stressful due to the uncertainty of going home. It's encouraging when we receive good news about crew changes but frustrating when it's cancelled – it's heartbreaking. So, when things get messed up, I find someone to tell about it rather than keeping it to myself. The crew mess room is my favourite place since it is where we eat and gather and talk to each other and watch a movie together. I find it uplifting.

I joined the competition to tell people that behind the photos of every seafarer are the stories that people don't see, the struggles that they are going through every day and the memories worth remembering and that is the life that we take to give the life that we want for our families and loved ones, not only them but the whole world.

To my co-seafarers, keep up the good work. People may not see us on the frontlines but without us, in this time of pandemic the world would suffer. I hope that this will help people to recognise seafarers as keyworkers too in this time of crisis.

'This pandemic really hits me hard because I was expecting to be home sooner and have planned already where and when to spend my vacation with my loved ones but all of a sudden, it's gone'

Kris Bucton

Kris Bucton's selfie

I joined the competition because I saw this as an opportunity to share the challenges that seafarers are facing while working away from our loved ones with added burden brought by the pandemic.

The maritime workforce is often a neglected sector and as a seafarer I would like to advocate for our rights because we seafarers are one of the pillars who move and sustain the global economy.

We seafarers have to stand out, be heard even more to strengthen the call for systematic support for our needs; safety, crew change, mental and emotional well-being, among others.

My wedding day was supposed to be on 27 June 2020. That was the moment I had been waiting for a long, long time, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I was not able to sign off on May 2020 as planned.


'From the waves to the altar' ‒ Kris Bucton's lockdown story ended happily

Crew changes are not possible in Trinidad and Tobago, so I had no choice but to extend my contract.

But the pandemic cannot stop me. Even if my fiancé and I were a long distance away from each other on 27 June 2020, I made sure to surprise her through [a photo] of my wedding vow for her. I was hopeful that I will be able to say this to her personally.

On 2 August 2020, after our crew change, I was able to be back in the Philippines together with my five crew workers. After 10 days in the quarantine hotel, I was able to, finally, be with my fiancé.

We were able to arrange a simple and intimate wedding in our house in Batangas on 25 August 2020. That was such a blessed moment for me and my wife.


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