This World Maritime Day, we’re delighted to announce the winners of the Life at Sea 2023 photography competition. Since 2020 the ITF Seafarers’ Trust project has opened a window into the real life experiences of seafarers at sea and highlighted their vital, often unnoticed, role in the global economy.
The first prize of £1,000 goes to John Robert M. Maraño for his photo ’12 Degrees’ – at first glance a clever trick until you notice the pitch of the ship showing on the instrument (an inclinometer) on the wall behind. Paddy Rodgers, judging the competition said “We think of the floor as solid, but seafarers will tell you that aboard a ship the floor is very movable. The pendulum in the background of the image shows the swing of the ship, that it’s not a trick, that the photographer is doing something quite clever with the angle of the camera.” Just imagine carrying out your daily work in an environment that’s constantly rolling that you’re powerless to control.
"Michael Jackson? No. This is me trying his moves while balancing myself as the ship’s rolling reaches 12 degrees. This prevents me from getting dizzy with the ship’s heavy rolling. This was taken during our drifting in Fremantle, Australia." - John Robert M Maraño
Continuing the theme of the forces of nature, the second prize was awarded to Mikael Cesar Bureros for his photo ‘Converging Forces’ a dramatic image of a container ship about to be engulfed by a sandstorm blowing out of Egypt. In this image the viewer can imagine the feeling of seeing great billowing clouds of sand heading inexorably towards the photographer on board. Patrice Terraz, photographer and judge said “Looking through the photos, you realise ‘no-one but a seafarer could take this photo’, so many of the photos put you immediately into the view of the crew.”
"In the realm of the seafarer, the unpredictable forces of nature are both familiar and formidable. When a sandstorm sweeps across the land, a mesmerizing battle between land and sea unfolds. The swirling maelstrom of sand mirrors the ceaseless waves that test the prowess of seafarers. Like the turbulent ocean, the sandstorm brings forth a symphony of chaos and challenge, where wind and sand merge in a dance of elemental power. Yet amidst this tempestuous encounter, the seafarer's spirit remains unyielding. Drawing upon their seafaring instincts, they navigate through the chaos, relying on their honed skills and resilient resolve. In this captivating clash of land and sea, the seafarer's indomitable spirit shines through, a testament to their unparalleled courage and unwavering determination to conquer nature's most formidable storms." - Mikael Cesar Bureros
The third prize, awarded to Reza Sajedifar for ‘Serenity’ brings a change of mood with a colourful view shot over the side of a tanker showing a fisherman at prayer on a small boat alongside. Anne Reitsma, photographer and competition judge said, “This photo, with its beautiful colour and composition, really shows the interaction of people’s daily lives and the sea.”
"Hello I took this photo from the deck of an oil tanker. I found the fishing boat, which was about 15 meters below us, very interesting. They were almost clinging to our anchored ship so that they could catch more fish and the most interesting thing in my opinion is the fisherman who prayed in the middle of the ocean with a certain simplicity. Thank God I had my camera in my hand and I was able to take their picture at that moment" - Reza Sajedifar
The judges recognised three further photographs as highly commended: ‘Woman, you belong! [Babae, kabilang ka!]’ by Juven Tupas, ‘Rescue at Sea’ by Elijah Jose C. Barrios, and ‘Tank Inspection’ by Randolph P. de Jesus.
Women are still very under-represented in the maritime sector comprising only 2% of the international workforce. This pensive image titled ‘Woman, you belong!’ suggests an inner strength and determination and reminds us that though small in number women can play a vital role in the industry.
"In a world where you are observed by many and your abilities are compared to that of men’s, it is your own identity that drives your valuable contribution to the industry. As you accelerate in numbers, it also proves that the maritime world is not only for men but for everyone. You might feel lonely sometimes but remember that you are not alone. You're a woman, and you belong!" - Juven Tupas
In addition to the day job, seafarers are also confronted by life and death situations such as that reflected in ‘Rescue at Sea’. Whilst governments debate the political implications of migration at sea, seafarers must deal with the immediate humanitarian response. This dramatic image shows the precarity of the craft and the desperation of the people on board and leaves us to imagine the stress and bravery of the seafarers engaged in saving their lives.
"The sea is an immensity of inspiring stories. 09 February 2023—Our ship was en route to New Orleans, USA, when our second officer suddenly noticed a makeshift boat seemingly in distress. At that time, I was watching a movie in my cabin. Our captain called me in a rushed voice, instructing me to bring my camera and document what would be a rescue operation. When I got there, all hands were already on deck. We had doubts at the beginning. We initially thought they were pirates, but when we zoomed in the photos, the tears and exhaustion in their faces were enough to prove they were not. The rescue operation was challenging for all of us. The sea swells were not kind, and the current wasn't easing us either. It took us five attempts before we were able to rescue the distressed persons successfully. In this photo, you will see our final attempt at reaching them through a lifeline. It was a catch for life." - Elijah Jose C. Barrios
‘Tank Inspection’ presents a completely different perspective. This almost abstract photo shows the ship as an inhuman environment, enormous and dizzying but one that must be maintained and kept safe by the crew on board.
"Tank inspection is indeed a tiring job." - Randolph P. de Jesus
Life at Sea 2023 is the fourth seafarers’ photography competition organised by the ITF Seafarers Trust. The ITF Seafarers’ Trust photography project, which began in 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, now boasts a collection of some 8,000 digital images and captions. We are enormously grateful to all the seafarers who have embraced the opportunity to share their experiences with us and help raise the profile of the men and women powering the global movement of goods and people by sea.
Thanks also go to this year’s judges: San Ko Oo, seafarer and winner of Life At Sea 2022, Anne Reitsma, photographer, Patrice Terraz, photographer, and Paddy Rodgers, Director (Chief Executive) of Royal Museums Greenwich who undertook the very difficult task of selection with great care and consideration.