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U.K. group zooms in on migrant fishermen's woes on Taiwan boats

2018/03/13 20:56:03

Image from EJF's video Exploitation and Lawlessness: The Dark Side of Taiwan’s Fishing Fleet

Taipei, March 13 (CNA) The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a non-profit organization based in the United Kingdom, released an investigative video on Tuesday that highlights allegations of exploitation and abuse of migrant fishermen on Taiwanese vessels.

The 11-minute video, titled "Exploitation and Lawlessness: The Dark Side of Taiwan's Fishing Fleet," features interviews with migrant fishermen, who speak of violence and abuse, poor living conditions, non-payment of wages and illegal fishing activities on the Taiwanese boats.

In one of the interviews, migrant fisherman Desi Anwar gives a firsthand account of seeing his friend dragged to an office, held at gunpoint and beaten by several people because he was not working fast enough.

Another fisherman Hasan Herianto said he fears for his life whenever he has to dive into the water to clean debris from the vessel's propeller, with only a plastic tube supplying air to him. Herianto says he has yet to receive any wages for his months of work.

In a statement released Tuesday, EJF Director Steve Trent said Taiwan has the ability to do better.

"As one of the world's most advanced economies, Taiwan has the means and technology to put a stop to these abuses in its fisheries," Trent said.

He said Taiwanese authorities should assign a single, well-resourced and properly trained government agency to protect migrant fishermen from human trafficking and ensure their rights are in line with International Labor Organization conventions.

"Unmonitored transfers of catches at sea should also be banned, and maximum trip lengths set," said Trent, whose organization investigates and films issues of environmental and human rights abuses.

According to the foundation, Taiwan has one of the world's largest distant water fleets, with around 1,800 vessels bearing the Taiwanese flag and hundreds of Taiwan-owned vessels registered in other countries with less restrictive regulations.

The annual export value of Taiwan's distant water fleets is estimated at US$1.6 billion to US$2 billion, and their seafood products are often landed and are processed in countries such as Thailand and Mauritius, before being exported to the main consumer markets, according to the foundation.

The European Commission issued a "yellow card" to Taiwan in October 2015, labeling the country as "uncooperative" in fighting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

It is estimated that tens of thousands of migrant fishermen are employed on Taiwan-owned vessels and their plight has been widely reported by international media and consistently highlighted in the annual Trafficking in Persons report released by the U.S. Department of State.

The Environmental Justice Foundation urged Taiwan to adopt the International Labor Organization's Convention 188 that protects workers in the fishing industries, to conduct rigorous inspections, prosecute Taiwanese nationals engaged in human trafficking, and issue heavy sanctions that would deter such offenses.

It also suggested that Taiwan publish a transparent list of Taiwan-owned vessels, their unique vessel identifiers, beneficial ownership and details of their crew, to help governments and NGOs around the world identify and rescue trafficked crew members.

Exploitation and Lawlessness: The Dark Side of Taiwan's Fishing Fleet from Environmental Justice Foundation on Vimeo.

(By Christie Chen)