According to an Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) report, a U.K. registered charity, Chinese distant-water fishing fleets (CDWF) have plagued global fisheries illegally and have been associated with human rights abuses for decades.
According to EJF, these vessels are usually jammed by migrant workers subjected to abuses ranging from lack of food and drink to physical and verbal abuse, human trafficking, and forced labor.
Interviews with more than a hundred Indonesian crewmembers from 88 fleets exposed a high frequency of improper treatment from their Chinese employers.
According to the report, 115 crew members had their wages held and deducted, 112 were subjected to debt bondage, guaranteed money, and document confiscation and 103 crew members were forced to work excessive overtime.
Additionally, 85.3% of the workers reported abusive working and living conditions, while 69.8% experienced intimidation and threats. Physical violations accounted for 57.8% of the human rights abuses as reported.
An Indonesian fisherman said, “I was being restrained and hit. They beat every part of my body.”
Similar physical abuses echoed among locals, not just migrants. Ghanaian crew working for CDWF in Ghanaian waters further unveiled they had to drink unsanitary water and had a poor diet, which caused them health problems.
A Long Xing 629 vessel case study reported the tragedy of four original Indonesian crew members who suffered from edema and chest pains and passed away between December 2019 and March 2020.
The captain did not provide appropriate care. Besides, some workers couldn’t get back to their home countries when their contracts expired.
Another case study aboard the Liao Dong Yu fleet in the Indian Ocean found 13 stranded Indonesian crew members who were apparently forced to labor despite vessel operators’ refusal to repatriate them. In fact, their contracts expired in 2020.
The tragedy became grimmer as more stories were added.
In June 2021, after a big wave hit, which forced them to open the heavy trawl door, one fisherman passed away, and the other was thrown into the ocean.
Later, one of the four crew members who couldn’t swim lost his life at sea as they were trying to flee the vessels for shore.
With the assistance of local and international organizations, including EJF, these crew members were eventually repatriated.
According to the report, the conditions on board the vessels assist in understanding why certain crew members are willing to risk their lives to reach the shore. They were reportedly subjected to physical abuse when they asked for repatriation information. Moreover, breakfast would be denied for days should they refuse to work.
There are still more crimes.
The study also cited a report by due diligence watchdog Marcus Aurelius Value. It found that China’s Pingtan Marine Enterprise Limited’s Indonesian affiliate Dwikarya committed human trafficking while bribing corrupt officials to condone their crimes.
The study reads, “Evidence indicates that some Dwikarya boat laborers were imported from the Philippines, a hotbed of the illegal “manning agencies” that traffic unsuspecting villagers into bondage.”