‘I just want my husband’s remains to be returned to us’

This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.

Stanley Jungco had only ever been to sea on a fishing boat once before, and he had vowed to his sisters that he would never go again.

But in September 2018, tempted by the promise of a monthly salary of $380, the 24-year-old went back to sea as crew on a Chinese-owned trawler.

The money would be enough for him to buy back the land his father had pawned and buy some for himself too. He could settle down and marry his girlfriend. One more trip would be the difference between a life spent jumping from one odd job to another, and stability.

Five months ago, Jungco had an accident on board and later died from complications. Worse, as a result of restrictions associated with the coronavirus pandemic, his body remains in a mortuary in the southern Chinese province of Fuzhou.

The Philippines is at the centre of a maritime crisis that has left thousands of seafarers locked down in their ships and exiled from home. The island archipelago, which has a maritime history dating back to the Galleon Trade during Spanish colonial rule, supplies about a quarter of the world’s 1.2 million seafarers. Last year, they sent home some $6.14bn in remittances.

Sealed borders and ports closed to curb the spread of COVID-19 have kept some 300,000 seafarers quarantined on their ships, with little to no chance of being replaced by a fresh crew, according to the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).

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