Is the fish you eat caught by 'slaves'?
Another sad story of fishing slavery
Wednesday, May 29, 2019, 21:30 (GMT + 9)
Enslaved, beaten, malnourished, and so desperate for water he had to collect condensation to drink: Rahmatullah left Indonesia seeking better prospects at sea -- instead he endured a living hell.
The global fishing industry is riddled with forced labour, anti-trafficking experts say, warning that consumers are unaware of the "true cost" of the seafood they buy in stores and restaurants.
Rahmatullah is among 40 Indonesian fisherman who are seeking compensation after allegedly being tricked by false promises from a recruiter (AFP Photo/Bagus Saragih)
Exploited workers face non-payment, overwork, violence, injury, and even death. Indonesia and Southeast Asia are major sources of such labour and unscrupulous brokers target the poor and uneducated with promises of good wages at sea.
Cellphone video footage and images provided to AFP showed the poor conditions for Indonesian fishermen on board a Chinese fishing vessel (AFP Photo/Handout) ►
Rahmatullah was told he was heading to Peruvian waters where he would receive $400 a month salary, plus a per ton bonus, but he was allegedly duped by an Indonesian recruiting agency and trafficked to Somalia, where he spent nine brutal months aboard a Chinese fishing vessel, working 18-hour days.
"I felt like a slave," the 24-year-old told AFP, adding: "The Chinese crew drank clean water while we had to collect water from the air conditioning."
"We were often beaten when we didn't catch enough, even if we were sick."
'Couldn't fight back'
Rahmatullah is one of 40 Indonesians pushing for compensation after allegedly being tricked with false promises by recruiter PT Maritim Samudera.
Some were sent to vessels in the seas off Japan, and others to boats sailing the Somalian coast.
In interviews with AFP and accounts provided to police and government officials, the men recounted beatings and psychological abuse, hunger, and dehydration.
Two crewmates died from thirst and exhaustion, according to Rahmatullah's testimony.
Most of the men subsisted on white rice scattered with cabbage or boiled fish, while some grew so desperate for water they collected condensation from the air conditioning unit.
"The food was terrible," said 21-year-old Arianus Ziliwu, who was on a boat in Japanese waters.
►Photos released by the Indonesian Seafarers' Movement show fishermen forced to sleep on the floor without mattresses while they served on a Chinese fishing vessel (AFP Photo/Handout)
"And the sleeping conditions didn't seem fit for humans," he explained.
Cellphone video footage and images provided to AFP showed some men slept without mattresses in a grimy cargo hold.
"We couldn't fight back -- I'm from a village and didn’t know any better," added Rahmatullah, who had never worked on a fishing boat before.
Both groups were rescued after sending SOS messages in brief windows of access to mobile internet.
Targeting the vulnerable
The young men spent between six and nine months manning nets and packing fish before being saved, and all are owed thousands of dollars in unpaid wages, according to sworn statements to police.
Faced with plummeting global fish stocks due to overfishing, seafood companies have increasingly turned to vulnerable migrant workers in a bid to remain profitable, anti-trafficking advocates said.
"If you want cheap tuna or squid, the way to do it is with cheap labour," said Arifsyah M. Nasution, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia.
"And cheap labour comes from Southeast Asia," he added.
The Global Slavery Index says labour exploitation and modern slavery in some fisheries are well documented.
Author: Harry Pearl, AFP (read full article here)