Indonesia calls for RFMO reforms in response to crew abuse onboard Chinese longliners

The government of Indonesia is calling for reforms in fisheries management after four deaths amongst the crew of a Chinese longliner.

In late April, news emerged from Indonesia that a crew onboard two Chinese tuna longline vessels, the Long Xing 629 and Long Xing 802, had suffered abuse and were denied medical care to four crewmates. As a result of the abuse, four of the crew died.

The Environmental Justice Foundation and the Advocates for Public Interest Law have called for an investigation, and earlier this month, the government of Indonesia – the country of origin of the fishermen – issued a formal complaint to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the two regional fisheries management organizations with jurisdiction over the Pacific’s tropical tuna fisheries.

In a letter to the two RFMOs, the Indonesian government called for an independent investigation into the existence of forced labor on fishing vessels operating in their jurisdictions, and demanded urgent action to deal with labor abuse through the enforcement of international laws and policies. Indonesia also asked for improved information-sharing between RFMO members and a larger presence of crew and their representative organizations in RFMO deliberations, as well as for the RFMOS to make a greater effort to raise awareness of issues involving labor abuse among consumers and in the media.

According to an initial investigation by the Indonesian government, which interviewed the survivors after their return to shore, the fishermen were forced to work nonstop 30-hour workdays on just six hours of rest for 13 consecutive months and received a total payment of USD 150 (EUR 133). They were given only filtered seawater to drink and, when four of the crew became sick, they were denied medical care. When several died, they were buried at sea, despite the crew’s contract stipulating that in the event of death, their remains would be cremated and their ashes turned over to relatives. The Indonesian government also claims the Chinese shipowners violated a contract clause guaranteeing a life insurance policy payout of USD 150,000 (EUR 133,000) for a work-related death.

On 5 June, designated by the United Nations as the International Day to Combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, the Spanish Fishing Confederation (CEPESCA) issued a statement in support of the adoption of “urgent measures to eradicate these practices of labor abuse through the application of current international laws and policies, as well as the demand for exhaustive and independent investigations into forced labor on board fishing vessels.”

 “The Spanish fishing industry, especially our tuna fleet, has been saying for a long time now that we need to find mechanisms for reporting and combatting this scourge of our industry, and the requests Indonesia has made of the RFOs have our solid support, although we believe Indonesia ought to submit its complaint to the ILO  and the IMO,” CEPESCA Secretary General Javier Garat said in a press release. “It’s unacceptable for fleets that practice slavery and abuse get to sit around the same RFO table as others, like the Spanish fleet, which not only complies scrupulously with the law, but also works to promote social and occupational sustainability for crews. I believe that something may be starting to move in the world fisheries environment to put an end to these outrageous, despicable situations once and for all, and we want to play an active part in the movement.”

On 30 April, Europêche, , the representative body for European fishermen, requested the European Commission revise its criteria for the importing of fishery products from Chinese fleets, in order to prevent seafood tainted with slave labor from entering the European Union and to apply pressure on Chinese fishing companies to put an end to labor abuse in their fleets.

Photo courtesy of Uwe Aranas/Shutterstock


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