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The tuna longline vessel flagged Tunago #61.

Customs Service issues order to ban imports of controversial Vanuatu longliner

Click on the flag for more information about United States UNITED STATES
Friday, February 08, 2019, 00:30 (GMT + 9)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that the agency had imposed a Withhold Release Order (WRO) on any seafood imported that had been landed by the fishing vessel Tunago #61, a tuna longline vessel flagged in Vanuatu.

The WRO was issued pursuant to CBP’s authority under 19 U.S.C. 1307, which bans the importation of goods produced through forced or child labor. It was the first WRO issued this year and the first ever issued regarding a fishing vessel, reported the Southern Shrimp Alliance.

In 2006, the International Transport Workers’ Federation issued a report which highlighted stories regarding severe abuse of crewmembers onboard Tunago #61.

Last year, Greenpeace issued “Misery At Sea”, a report where the vessel Tunago #61 was again singled out. There, Greenpeace focused on the murder of the boat’s captain on September 7, 2016 and the subsequent incarceration of six Indonesian crewmembers for the crime in Vanuatu.

Crew on Longline Fishing Vessel in the Pacific Ocean (Photo: Greenpeace)

The environmentalist organization reported that it had sent investigators to Vanuatu to interview the crewmen and that the interviews painted "a picture of inhumane working and living conditions on board Tunago No. 61, and the abusive treatment of the crew in the months leading up to the captain’s death."

CBP gave no explanation for why the agency decided to take action as regards Tunago No. 61.

    

Harrowing photographic and video evidence of Supriyanto’s final weeks alive emerged following his death. The photos and video raise serious questions about his treatment prior to his death. (Photo: Greenpeace)

According to the Southern Shrimp Alliance, there are doubts on whether the WRO is enforceable. However, it highlights that the CBP has issued the WRO at a time when NOAA’s Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) is now effective on imports of tuna into the United States. Under SIMP, an importer of tuna must provide and report key data – including information regarding the name and flag state of the harvesting vessel – regarding the fish at importation.

Furthermore, it highlights that the manner in which tuna are consolidated and sold means that the impact of the WRO may be broader than just Tunago #61.

With the implementation of SIMP and the amendment of the law to eliminate a loophole that prevented enforcement of the ban on importation of goods produced through forced or child labor on seafood, there are tools to address slavery in the seafood supply chain.

Photo: shrimpalliance.com front page

The US Congress has given priority on preventing goods produced from slave and child labor from entering the U.S. market. In response, CBP has now established a formal Forced Labor Division within the Trade Remedy Law Enforcement Directorate (TRLED) of its Office of International Trade.

The Southern Shrimp Alliance considers that, although it is not clear if this is the first step to significantly enforce laws that prohibit the importation of goods produced through forced or child labor in relation to the fishing industry, the publication of a WRO by CBP for the fishery products associated with the Tunago # 61 is a positive development.

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