Indonesian authorities prepare to sink a numbers of Vietnamese fishing boats at Datuk island, in West Kalimantan on May 4, 2019. Indonesia began to sink impounded foreign boats on May 4 to deter illegal fishing in its water (LOUIS ANDERSON / AFP).

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — The Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) urged the Indonesian government to seek help from international bodies such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) to assist in evacuating 13 Indonesian fishing vessel crew members stranded in Somalia for eight months aboard a Chinese-flagged vessel.

The national body stated that on top of contacting the IOM and EJF, it has also reached out to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for the same purpose.

DFW Coordinator Mr Abdi Suhufan told TOC on 19 August that there have been no updates so far about the evacuation process “as the stranded sailors are now isolated”.

Depressed and frightened under such confined conditions, Mr Abdi said that the fishermen feared that when push comes to shove, they will escape the situation by jumping into the sea.

The 13 stranded fishermen were working for five Chinese fishing boats under the Liao Dong Yu group. Their contract expired in December 2020.

They tried to contact the manning agency that recruited them. However, the company was shut down due to legal problems.

In addition to the figure, one crew member went missing and the other one died from a work accident on the Liao Dong Yu 571 fishing vessel, said DFW in a release on 16 August.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry in an official statement said that the pandemic has complicated the evacuation process.

“It will take time to reach the location due to the pandemic,” said the ministry’s Indonesian Citizens Protection Agency as cited in Liputan6.com on 18 August.

The ministry added it has coordinated with Indonesia’s embassies in Nairobi and Beijing, as well as with other related institutions such as the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Protection Agency (BP2MI), which is under the helm of the Ministry of Manpower.

Mr Abdi claimed that the abandonment of fishing vessel workers has been reported to the Foreign Ministry, Transportation Ministry, and Manpower Ministry since 29 June.

“The government has exercised all its efforts to save all of the fishermen, but has yet to successfully evacuate them,” Mr Abdi said.

TOC understands that none of the relevant institutions have claimed responsibility for the incident so far.

The exploitation of Indonesian fishing vessel crew members has been one of the most serious issues involving Indonesian migrant workers.

Many job-seekers have been deceived by illegal recruitment agencies which offer a contract with a US$430 monthly salary.

However, in reality, workers receive less than the amount stated in the contractmany have only received their salaries onceyet are forced to endure poor working conditions and constant intimidation, Mr Abdi said in a phone interview on 15 June 2020.

DFW’s investigations from November 2019 to March 2021 revealed that 35 Indonesian fishing vessel crew members died while working for foreign-flagged ships.

Eighty-two per cent of them worked for Chinese vessels, while the remaining worked for other foreign boats such as Taiwanese-flagged boats or Vanuatu-owned ships.

Additionally, most of them were placed by unregistered manning agencies.

Currently, Law No.8/2017 on Protection for Indonesian Migrant Workers details protections for Indonesian boat crew members on foreign fishing vessels.

However, the regulation has yet to effectively provide the necessary protections for Indonesian nationals working on such vessels, as the central government has yet to fully involve regional administrations in the process.

Mr Abdi noted that five institutions are involved in the recruitment of fishing vessel crew members: Indonesia’s Manpower and Transportation Ministries, regional administrations, the National Board for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Worker (BNP2TKI), and independent channels involving agents.

Overlapping ministerial authoritiesconcerning those under the Ministry of Manpower and the Ministry of Transportationregarding the recruitment and placement of Indonesian fishing vessel workers have hampered the protection efforts for such workers.

“The overlapping procedures have made it difficult to monitor the recruitment process, as many manning agencies are not registered,” Mr Abdi told TOC.

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