BACKGROUND : According to internal observations within a German shipping company, obvious risk-behaviour persists among the crew members coming from the Pacific Island State of Kiribati and representing a large part of the crew aboard merchant vessels of this company. These observations were related to excessive eating habits. This study aims to assess the cardiovascular risk among seafarers and to compare lifestyle factors between Kiribati and European crew members. METHODS : In the present maritime field study 81 sailors (48 Kiribati, 33 European, average age at 38.9 and 36.8 years respectively) were examined from April until August 2014 aboard four container ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean (participation rate of 90.9%). RESULTS : Based on the number of established risk factors, 35.4% of the Kiribati and 16.7% of the European crew members were regarded as a high risk group for cardiovascular diseases. The HDL-values of Kiribati were found to be considerably lower (34.9 mg/dl) than the references values given by the WHO and in comparison to the European crew members (44.8 mg/dl) (p = 0.002). 91.7% of Kiribati and 51.5% of European participants were found to be overweight according to WHO-criteria - with a mean Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30.3 kg/m2 and 25.6 kg/m2 (p < 0.001). Regarding lifestyle factors Kiribati often claimed to eat significantly larger amounts of food aboard while most European sailors stated to eat less or about the same during their shipboard stay (p = 0.017). Daily sleeping hours were slight on both sides; however with a mean of 5.2 h a day Kiribati crew members had significant fewer sleep (p = 0.038). The examined Kiribati sailors had a mean increase in weight of 6 kg over a 12 months period of observation. CONCLUSIONS : In total the compiled data points towards a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases particularly due to alimentary habits within the Kiribati crew members. The distinct weight-gain measured among the Kiribati in spite of higher energy consumption levels at sea is alarming. Thus, the results of this study confirm the necessity of health-improving interventions aboard cargo vessels.