Published: 13/05/2020

Video evidence and media reports detailing gross abuses aboard a Chinese fishing vessel operating with migrant seafarers have again shone a spotlight on the violence and human trafficking proliferating in the global fishing industry.

On April 24, two Chinese-owned vessels entered Korean waters and 26 Indonesia seafarers were disembarked after spending more than a year at sea without interruption. According to information they provided, they had signed on for a monthly salary of USD 300. Instead, they were paid less than a dollar a day after various deductions for recruitment and security. They received no wages for their first three months and their passports were confiscated. Some reported earning less than USDD 300 for the entire year. The Indonesian seafarers were made to work up to 18 hours a day, denied rest and denied fresh drinking water, instead being given filtered sea water.

In December, 2 crew members became seriously ill, presumably as a result of water deprivation, but the captain refused to put into port. More crew members were taken ill and the migrant seafarers were transferred to the vessels belong to the same company which arrived in Busan only in April. Three died en route; a fourth died while in quarantine at a hotel in Busan with other crew members. He had been seriously ill, but neither the ship captain nor the Korean company which arranged the quarantine sought medical help.

Assisted by local migrant worker support groups, some of the Indonesian crew have been repatriated. The two vessels which brought the seaman to Busan have departed. Although the vessels were registered as tuna ‘longliners’, crew members have provided photos and reports of endangered shark species being caught in violation of the regulations governing fishing in the region.

The Indonesian foreign ministry has called on the Chinese authorities to investigate the company operating the deadly vessels. Manning the vessels, however, involves a complex network of recruitment agencies which provide the manpower for these death factories on the seas. Surviving crew members meanwhile, whether in Indonesia or Korea, need full medical, social, financial and legal support. The IUF again calls for coordinated international action to stamp out the trafficking in human labour which fuels barbaric exploitation in the world’s fisheries.