Indonesia pushes for mutual legal assistance from China to probe alleged exploitation of Indonesian fishing vessel crew on Chinese-registered fishing vessels

Legally binding solutions are urgently needed to stop what is essentially modern slavery at sea on Chinese-registered fishing vessels

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi requested mutual legal assistance with China in a bid to launch a probe into the alleged exploitation and human trafficking of Indonesian fishing vessel crew members at a China-owned fishing boat which made headlines last May.

Mutual legal assistance requires testimonies from Chinese witnesses to investigate alleged human trafficking at the Long Xing 629 vessel, where three Indonesian fishermen reportedly underwent poor working conditions and had their bodies dumped at sea after their deaths.

The chronology of the Long Xing 629 tragedy

The tragedy went viral last May when a South Korean TV station aired footage of the three Indonesian vessel crew members being dumped at sea. One reportedly died at a hospital in Busan.

It was also reported that Indonesian fishermen on the vessel were forced to work for 18 hours and were only allocated 15 minutes for mealtime.

Indonesia’s National Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim) recalled that the recruitment of the boat members took place from December 2018 to February last year.

22 crew members were employed at the vessel. 14 out of them returned. Four were found to have died, and four were still alive.

The police cooperated with The Witness and Victims Protection Agency (LPSK) to provide protection for the 14 fishermen.

Information released by the Indonesian Embassy in South Korea — obtained from the written statement of the Tian Yu 8 vessel — affirmed that three Indonesian fishers at Long Xing 629 vessel had died and their bodies were dumped at sea in March.

Ms Retno stated that The Bareskrim named three manning agents as suspects of this crime.

Foreign companies involved in human trafficking must face trial

Hariyanto from the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (SBMI) hailed the diplomatic effort extended by Ms Retno, hoping that there would be a legally binding solution that provides justice for victims of human trafficking and cruelty at the fishing boat.

“We hope there will be a memorandum of agreement among countries that will bring those involved in human trafficking crime targeting fishers. At the moment, maybe with China. However, hopefully, there will be mutual legal assistance with other countries such as South Korea and Taiwan,” Mr Hariyanto told TOC.

The exploitation of fishermen on foreign fishing vessels is rampant, as fishermen are frequently susceptible to contract scams. For example, they are promised to receive a salary worth $300, while in practice they only receive $120. They are also forced to work 18-21 hours a day and are given expired food.

“So far, those involved in such a crime face human trafficking charges,as stipulated in the Law no.21/2007,” Mr Hariyanto added.

The exploitation of fishing vessel workers is not the responsibility of private companies

Ms Retno stressed in a virtual press conference that the exploitation at fishing vessels is not only the responsibility of private companies, but also that of the government.

Coordinator of The Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Abdi Suhfan, in an interview with TOC, hoped that foreign companies could face criminal charges for human trafficking of fishing vessel workers.

“We also need to revise our related regulation so foreign entities involved can face charges,” he said.

Protection for fishing vessel workers: Legal overview

Indonesia has several regulations protecting fishermen. However, implementation has not proved to be effective due to the absence of a systematic process, Director of Placement and Protection for Indonesian Workers Overseas at Ministry of Manpower Eva Trisiana said last May, as quoted by Kompas.

SBMI Advocacy Coordinator Salsa was quoted by Hukumonline as saying that fishing vessel crew members are among the most vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation with 288 cases as of 3 August, behind domestic workers with 1,519 cases.

Problems related to placement, recruitment, and certification of fishing vessel crew members are due to low coordination among relevant institutions.

Mr Hariyanto and Mr Benni Rhamdani — Head of Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection Agency (BP2MI) — called for the implementation of the Government Regulation on Protection for Commercial and Fishing Vessels in Chapter 64 on Law no.18/2017 on the Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers.

The regulation was supposed to be issued in November 2019, Benny told CNNIndonesia.

“We have seen some manning agencies that recruit fishing vessel fishers are illegal, but they still can operate. That indicates poor supervision,” a source speaking under the condition of anonymity told TOC several months ago.

A missing Indonesia fisherman on a Chinese boat

On 22 August, DFW sent a formal letter to the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Protection Agency, Directorate General of Protocol and Consular at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Manpower regarding the report of a missing Indonesian fishing vessel crew member at the Lu Qing Yuan Yu 117.

The fisher, known with the initials ACG, had been working since September 2019 under a two-year contract. On 21 August, a representative of a manning agency met with the fisherman’s family reporting that the worker was declared missing while the boat was in the Indian Ocean.

“So far, there have been no responses from the related ministries. The worker may have fallen off the vessel as the ship has been searching for 72 hours, but so far there has not been any results,” Mr Abdi told TOC on Wednesday (26 August).

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