Sweeping Fishermen’s Human Rights Under the Rug

While some think that being a marine scientist is somehow more elitist than being a fisherman, they can’t be further from the truth. As a marine scientist I feel closer to men of the sea than to anyone. This is why I choose to live in a small coastal Carolinian fishing village. We are kindred spirits and many marine biologists are very empathetic to fishermen’s plights, despite seemingly disparate goals.

This is why this very important report on gCaptian tonight hit me hard. Fishing is a tough occupation. Human rights abuses are ripe in southeast Asia and fishermen from these countries are in a very bad situation. As reported on gCaptain:

Now, an investigation by the University of Auckland has revealed Indonesian fisherman working on Korean-owned vessels in New Zealand waters have found themselves subject to unbelievably savage work conditions and treatment at the hands of their Korean officers.

“Officers are vicious bastards … factory manager just rapped this 12kg stainless steel pan over his head, splits the top of his head, blood pissing out everywhere…,” one informant told the University of Auckland.

Written by Management and International Business staff Dr Christina Stringer and Glenn Simmons, the report documents substandard conditions, verbal and physical abuse, sexual harassment, intimidation and threats, and absence of responsibility suffered by crew onboard particularly Korean fishing vessels.

There is much more. You need to go read it. This story needs to be told because it appears the New Zealand government is trying to sweep this one under the rug. A colleague in NZ sent me this report about the NZ government’s response, from The Standard:

An Auckland University study, “Not in our waters, surely?” was released last night. It details a gruesome list of human rights abuses, crimes, and breaches of labour law being carried out abroad the slave ships contracted by our quota-holders to harvest our fish. Now, the government is moving to deport the prime witnesses before they can testify.


After months of inaction, Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson and Fisheries Minister have launched a ministerial inquiry but, before it can get underway, immigration has decided to deport the crew of the Oyang 75 as early as tomorrow. The order to deport them came from the top, apparently from Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson.

In Parliament yesterday, Wilkinson shamefully tried to avoid answering questions by playing technical games over which portfolio she was answering as. She then lied and said that no deportation decisions had been made.

Before the end of question time, Labour learned that the crew could be deported as early as Saturday and sought to urgently question the minister on why she was sending the main witnesses to slave-fishing in New Zealand waters out of the country before their evidence could be heard by the inquiry. National, shamefully, blocked that question on technical grounds.

Wilkinson rejected a motion to waive the $550/person fee to appeal their deportation. But commenters on The Standard are reporting from TV News that an NZ anglican church has picked up the tab for 32 sailors to appeal their deportation. But this all smells fishy. Why all the sudden deport the witnesses? And especially right after a damning report on the fishing company is published? Here are just a few of the atrocities being reported (from The Standard, gCaptain, and Anglican Taonga)

  • Sexual harassment, including rape
  • Substandard conditions including little or no heating, drinking water a brownish rusty color, food supplies rationed, crew fed fish bait
  • Working on average 112 hours per week with shifts up to 53 hours in length and with no time off for two years
  • Cambodian men and boys are deceived into working long haul fishing boats which stay out at sea for 2+ years
  • “We were beat frequently by the Thai crew, on the back of the head and across the back.  The captain had a gun.  On shore [on Sarawak] we saw a Thai captain decapitate a Vietnamese fishmerman, and another Thai captain decapitate a Thai fisherman.” – 19-year-old victim from Banteay Meanchey
  • A fisherman said: “The captain asked one by one to give him a massage … from head to toe … we don’t want to do it, but I am pressured to do it… every day.”
  • The study revealed that a foreigner on an FCV [foreign commercial vessel] can expect to earn between $6700 and $11,600 a year while a foreigner working on a New Zealand-flagged fishing boat would earn between $60,000 and $80,000.
  • “[The report] found crews were regularly exploited by fishing companies and the agents who hired them, and that New Zealand officials were routinely lied to about wages and conditions.”
  • “Their main complaint is they were forced to work for sometimes days at a time without a break, but had their hours recorded as only six hours a day. A complication, sources have told the Press, is the crew signed timesheets for the six hours a day. The crew say they did not know what they were signing.”
Absolutely horrific. Human rights is something that is easy to overlook when factoring in all the myriad of issues that go into purchasing your seafood. We all need to think real hard about what our purchasing power is doing overseas. This highlights to me how important it is to have a personal connection with our food supply. I know its not easy for people living inland, we need to figure out something better but we can’t always assume we are helping to supply jobs for some fishermen. Sometimes we might be fueling nightmares, and I don’t think anyone of us want blood on our seafood.

5 Replies to “Sweeping Fishermen’s Human Rights Under the Rug”

  1. This is atricious and has been witnessed by me in the last 12 years of working on NZ fishing vessels both NZ and Foreign flagged.

  2. que dire aprés tant d’horreur, de mensonges et manipulations. j’espére que les gouvernements fondateurs, et colporteurs des droits de l’homme assumeront leurs devoir!

  3. il va plus profondément, cependant. nous avons besoin de droits pour les travailleurs à travers les frontières internationales… Merci de nous visiter!

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