Intensifying international competition in the shipping industry in response to global pressures makes seafarers' jobs increasingly difficult. Challenging conditions in ship employment are problematic, particularly in a development context where home communities' dependence on seafarers' income is high and social protection is low. Qualitative fieldwork revealed that seafarers from Kiribati and Tuvalu endure exceptionally lengthy work periods at sea to remain competitive. Absence from home while working in constrained and mobile spaces with multinational crews, frequent security controls and speedy turnarounds impacting on sleep deprivation and decreased shore time have implications for physical and emotional health and can become safety matters. Hence, there is a growing need to address mechanisms to protect seafarers from the physical and emotional effects of global demands in the shipping industry.