Philippine Fishermen, Hazardous Compressor Diving...

Every so often in the lifetime of a photographer, something comes along that is so truly awesome to shoot.

Welcome to the crazy, dangerous world of Philippine compressor diving.

Breathing through just a thin plastic air hose connected to a rusty air compressor on the boat above them, these fishermen dive down deep to 20m, 30m, sometimes 40m. Known in Tagalog as 'Pa-aling', this stripped down method of diving completely does away with regulators, spare regulators and mouthpieces.

Often exploited by their employers, workers suffer harsh work conditions, low pay, and non-existent safety standards. Injuries, and death are common.

The most usual cause of death is from decompression illness, or DCI.

Otherwise known as 'the bends', this arises when a diver ascends too fast.

Herding the skipjack tuna in the net, 'Pa-aling' is recognized as one of the most dangerous methods of fishing.

More than 200 nautical miles from land, and far from any decompression chambers or hospitals, these fishermen often stay at sea for months at a time.

For those who don't die, limb paralysis and migraines are common.

If something goes wrong with the hoses, such as a kink, leak or break, it's curtains.

Obviously the rusty compressor must never be allowed to break down or run out of gas.

Not withstanding the human rights and labour rights violations inherent in 'Pa-aling diving, this lethal way of fishing is a major contributor to the tuna overfishing crisis in the Philippines. Purse seine fishing boats from the southern city of General Santos are now fishing further afield. They fish in international waters now, as the seas around the Philippines are already overfished. And because this all takes place in on the 'high seas', i.e. no man's land, there's nothing anybody, government, or organization can do.

To gather these images I was spent a month on a boat with Greenpeace who are advocating a network of marine reserves to be established in four high seas pockets of international waters, and for these zones to be declared off-limits to fishing. The more I see of this kind of thing, the more it reinforces my belief that business interests are unfortunately winning the battle for the control of our lives and our natural environment.


All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011