Traf­ficked fish­er­men risk their lives to feed fam­i­lies

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

When Bruno Ciceri was a chap­lain to sea­far­ers in Tai­wan’s city of Kaoh­si­ung, ev­ery evening he took crates of beer, soft drinks and news­pa­pers to share with the fish­er­men who came into port. While chat­ting to them, he came across many cases of traf­fick­ing and forced la­bor - men toil­ing away for up to 18 hours a day in dan­ger­ous con­di­tions, un­able to come to shore for months, some­times years, and given lit­tle or no pay.

He has helped to res­cue many peo­ple dur­ing his 13 years in Tai­wan, and 11 years in the Philip­pines be­fore that, but said that poverty re­peat­edly forces peo­ple into the work “and we can­not do much about it”. “I re­mem­ber one episode when we helped a fish­er­man in Tai­wan to get out of a sit­u­a­tion of abuse and ... forced la­bor. He re­turned to the Philip­pines, but af­ter sev­eral months he was back,” the Ital­ian Catholic priest said from his of­fice in Rome. “He said: ‘Fa­ther, the prob­lem was I need money for my fam­ily ... so I tried my luck again’.” The men of­ten say they pre­fer to risk their lives in fish­ing in or­der to feed their fam­i­lies, than to stay at home with­out a job, Ciceri said.

Ciceri left Tai­wan in 2009, and is now di­rec­tor of the Apostle­ship of the Sea (AOS) In­ter­na­tional which has chap­lains and vol­un­teers in about 350 ports world­wide. “If you want to solve the prob­lem of traf­fick­ing, not only in the fish­ing in­dus­try but traf­fick­ing in gen­eral, you have to go to the root cause,” he told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. More than 15 mil­lion peo­ple work full-time on board fish­ing ves­sels, and some 24,000 peo­ple in the in­dus­try die ev­ery year, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion (ILO). It is un­known how many fish­ers are traf­ficked or in forced labour, but it oc­curs in many coun­tries and af­fects a “sig­nif­i­cant num­ber” of peo­ple, the ILO says.

Last week, the Vat­i­can and the UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) to­gether urged gov­ern­ments to do more to tackle forced la­bor and traf­fick­ing in the fish­ing in­dus­try, and end il­le­gal fish­ing. Il­le­gal fish­ing of­ten goes hand in hand with forced la­bor and traf­fick­ing, as well as de­struc­tion of wild fish stocks, ex­perts say.

“We have to guar­an­tee that the seafood reach­ing our plates has been pro­duced not only in an en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able man­ner, but also in a man­ner that sup­ports the so­cio-eco­nomic well­be­ing of those who har­vest and process it,” FAO’s di­rec­tor-gen­eral Jose Graziano da Silva said at the joint event. In­ter­na­tional agree­ments on the is­sue ex­ist but need greater sup­port and im­ple­men­ta­tion, they said. FAO’s Port State Mea­sures Agree­ment to elim­i­nate il­le­gal, un­re­ported and un­reg­u­lated fish­ing came into force in July. And the ILO’s Work in Fish­ing Con­ven­tion 2007 will come into force in Novem­ber next year af­ter Lithua­nia be­come the tenth coun­try to rat­ify it.

How­ever, ma­jor fish­ing play­ers like Thai­land and Ja­pan have not yet joined it. Tack­ling the prob­lem re­quires not just in­ter­na­tional laws, but also gov­ern­ments to im­ple­ment them, com­pa­nies to adopt codes of con­duct, and con­sumers to be­come aware of what they are buy­ing, said Ciceri. “I find it ridicu­lous that some­times you find on pack­ages of fish it says: ‘This tuna was caught with­out harm­ing any tur­tle or dol­phin.’ Maybe fish­ers had an ac­ci­dent or died, but that’s not im­por­tant,” he said. — Reuters

NARATHI­WAT: Viet­namese fish­er­men are seen in a boat af­ter be­ing de­tained by the Royal Marine Po­lice in Thai­land’s south­ern prov­ince of Narathi­wat. Po­lice ar­rested the nine Viet­namese men for il­le­gal fish­ing in Thai wa­ters. — AFP

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