Voyages of Abuse: How Filipino Seafarers Face Sexual Assault

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a rampant issue in the Philippines. Under Philippine law, sexual harassment in the workplace refers to any act or series of acts involving an unwelcome sexual advance, request, or demand for a sexual favour, or other physical or verbal behaviour of a sexual nature, committed by an employer in a work-related environment. It victimises both men and women across different age groups.

Even seafarers are not safe from sexual harassment or assault. Indeed, there are already several stories of seafarers being sexually assaulted while on board a vessel. However, most of these cases go unreported for fear of losing their jobs. This fear is one of the reasons why maritime news in Singapore, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian countries seldom report cases of sexual abuse among sea-based workers.

In the Philippines, sexual harassment is not punishable under a seafarer’s standard contract. Victims can lodge only complaints under gross misbehaviour or abuse of authority against offenders who merely face suspension and immediate disqualification most of the time. Hence, despite being rampant, incidents of sexual harassment among Filipino seafarers usually go unheard of. This article delves deeper into the rampancy of sexual abuse among Filipino seafarers.

Sexual Abuse at Sea: A Case That Happens to Both Male and Female Seafarers

Sexual harassment or abuse at sea is a rampant offence that happens to both female and male seafarers. However, male seafarers often hesitate to move forward with their complaints because they fear ridicule or possibly losing their job. With that said, even though most cases of sexual assault against male seafarers are unreported, it does not mean it is not happening.

In 2020, for instance, a Filipino seaman won a case in the Supreme Court regarding the sexual harassment he experienced during his employment on board a vessel called “M/V Mineral Water.” The victim seaman filed a complaint against the chief officer but later on withdrew due to a threat. He was then removed from office and denied compensation.

Fortunately, the Labor Arbiter sided with the victim and found the offender guilty of sexual harassment. He was ordered to pay the victim moral damages for his mental torture and exemplary damages to discourage the same incident from happening further. This incident is only one of the many cases of sexual harassment faced by Filipino seafarers, which proves that sexual assault is not entirely an issue of gender but of power.

Different Types of Sexual Harassment Filipino Seafarers Experience

As mentioned earlier, sexual harassment among Filipino seafarers happens to both men and women, and such offence comes in different forms. In a report published by the Institute of Development Studies, it was found that in the Philippines, most female seafarers are still battling forms of sexual harassment, the most common of which are verbal and physical forms.

Of the two, verbal forms of sexual assault are the most prevalent. Female seafarers are mainly the ones most vulnerable to experiencing verbal sexual harassment from their superiors on board. This verbal sexual harassment usually involves sexual innuendoes and indecent proposals by superior officers and chief mates.

Aside from verbal assault, many Filipino seafarers also experience physical forms of sexual abuse, and they happen to both men and women. According to several maritime students, it is common for students in maritime schools to get a briefing from their supervisors on what to expect on board, including incidents of sexual harassment.

Female cadets commonly receive instructions on what clothes to pack and wear to avoid grabbing the attention and interest of male superiors and chief mates. With that said, male cadets are also not safe from possible harassment. For example, one male cadet admitted that a ship captain physically harassed him during his year-long cadetship. However, he decided to remain silent and not file a case against the offender because he feared it would affect his graduation.


Despite being unreported, there are many cases of sexual harassment or assault involving Filipino seafarers as victims. These cases happen to both men and women who are often too afraid to speak up for fear of losing their employment or affecting their employability. However, just because these cases go unreported does not mean there is no truth to the rampant sexual abuse among Filipino seafarers.

It is not only the Filipino seafarers who suffer. Sexual harassment on board a vessel can happen to anyone, regardless of nationality. It is as if sexual harassment at sea has become one of the current trends in freight and shipping industry. If not addressed as soon as possible, this problem can turn the maritime industry in the region from an industry of economic opportunities to rampant sexual abuse.


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