Tai­wan’s fish­ing in­dus­try faces claims of ‘hell’ on the high seas

For sailors aboard the rick­ety fish­ing ves­sel Fuh Sheng 11, life on the wa­ters off South Africa, 10,000km from the boat’s home port in Tai­wan, was a liv­ing “hell”


For sailors aboard the rick­ety fish­ing ves­sel Fuh Sheng 11, life on the wa­ters off South Africa, 10,000km from the boat’s home port in Tai­wan, was a liv­ing “hell”.

The cap­tain was al­leged to have handed down beat­ings and forced the crew to work up to 22 hours a day while in­sects in­fested their cramped sleep­ing and eat­ing quar­ters. Out on the high seas, the men said, pro­tected sharks were caught and stripped of their fins.

The 27-man, mostly-In­done­sian crew’s or­deal—doc­u­mented in a probe by En­vi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Foun­da­tion (EJF), a Bri­tish non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion— not only suggests that labour abuse and en­vi­ron­men­tal pil­lage still plague the global fisheries busi­ness, it also sig­nals that an over­haul of Tai­wan’s laws and closer in­ter­na­tional mon­i­tor­ing have failed to rein in the in­dus­try’s darker side, en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­perts said.

“For all In­done­sian fish­er­men, I hope they don’t ex­pe­ri­ence what I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced,” one crew mem­ber told the EJF, which on Thurs­day pub­lished its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the episode.

The Fuh Sheng No 11 is one of an es­ti­mated 1,100 Tai­wan-flagged dis­tant­wa­ter fish­ing ves­sels that com­prise the world’s sec­ond-largest long-dis­tance fish­ing fleet, be­hind China.

While much of Tai­wan’s in­dus­try by value is con­cen­trated in the Pa­cific, where Tai­wanese long­line boats tar­get tuna, hun­dreds of boats spread across wa­ters from Fiji to the Falk­lands.

The ves­sels are manned by tens of thou­sands of south-east Asian work­ers. Gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates put the num­ber of mi­grant fish­er­men at 30,000 while NGOs es­ti­mate that the fig­ure tops 100,000.

Tai­wan in 2017 over­hauled its fish­ing laws, beefed up fund­ing of the in­dus­try reg­u­la­tor and in­creased penal­ties for breaches fol­low­ing years of in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to cur­tail hu­man rights abuses and over­fish­ing.

Lin Ding-rong, direc­tor of deep sea fisheries at Tai­wan’s Fisheries Agency, which man­ages the coun­try’s fish­ing prac­tices, said that new elec­tronic systems mon­i­tored ves­sels’ po­si­tions ev­ery hour and logged daily catch re­ports.

Au­thor­i­ties are now ex­ceed­ing in­ter­na­tional stan­dards for the fre­quency of in­spec­tions and have boosted worker sup­port.

“I be­lieve Tai­wan’s fish­ing fleet is more trans­par­ent than be­fore,” Mr Lin said. “The new reg­u­la­tions have done a lot to en­hance and pro­tect the right of fish­ing ves­sels’ crews.”

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, which has threat­ened to sanc­tion Tai­wan’s fish­ing in­dus­try, has ac­knowl­edged “great ef­forts done by the Tai­wanese au­thor­i­ties to re­form their fisheries pol­icy”.

How­ever, the tes­ti­mo­ni­als from the

Fuh Sheng No 11 crew given to EJF and com­plaints made to South African of­fi­cials sug­gest a sharp divide be­tween what au­thor­i­ties say and what is hap­pen­ing at sea.

When the ship ar­rived in Cape Town in May, it was sharply list­ing, lifebuoys were rot­ten and an­chors did not work, ac­cord­ing to a South African Mar­itime Au­thor­ity re­port. It was de­clared un­sea­wor­thy and the crew was tem­po­rar­ily re­moved.

Yang Yen-rong, pro­pri­etor of Fuh Sheng Fish­ery that owned the Fuh Sheng No 11, con­firmed that the ves­sel had caught and finned sharks — strip­ping sharks on ves­sels is il­le­gal in Tai­wan — but de­nied al­le­ga­tions of phys­i­cal abuse and ex­ces­sive work­ing hours, and blamed the poor hy­gienic con­di­tions on the work­ers.

“The In­done­sian work­ers are mak­ing things up,” Mr Yang said, adding that he had since sold the Fuh Sheng No 11.

Poor treat­ment of fish­er­men and il­le­gal con­tract­ing ar­range­ments is still wide­spread, said Al­li­son Lee, founder of the only union rep­re­sent­ing mi­grant fish­er­men in Tai­wan.

“The new law is useless,” said Ms Lee. “They don’t care about the peo­ple.”

The Fuh Sheng No 11 crew was promised pay of $300 a month, less than Tai­wan’s minimum wage of $450 a month, ac­cord­ing to con­tracts ob­tained by EJF. They also had to make de­duc­tions to pay back a guar­an­tee to an em­ploy­ment bro­ker.

“The use of sig­nif­i­cant salary de­duc­tions cre­ates bonded labour con­di­tions, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult or im­pos­si­ble for crew to leave and there­fore vul­ner­a­ble to phys­i­cal and other abuse,” the EJF said in its re­port.

Con­tracts for mi­grant work­ers on other Tai­wanese-owned ves­sels, seen by the Fi­nan­cial Times, sim­i­larly re­veal pay below the minimum wage, bro­kers de­duct­ing em­ploy­ment guar­an­tee fees, and clauses spec­i­fy­ing that the bod­ies of de­ceased work­ers may not be repa­tri­ated, which in prac­tice means bod­ies are dumped into the ocean.

Low-cost, high-vol­ume op­er­a­tions were driven by “the re­lent­less pres­sure of con­stant global de­mand for huge quan­ti­ties of cheap seafood”, Green­peace said of the long-dis­tance fish­ing model.

EJF urged Tai­wan to re­view the mea­sures in place by the Fisheries Agency to de­tect and counter hu­man rights trans­gres­sions.

“The abuses suf­fered on this ves­sel are ap­palling and com­pletely un­ac­cept­able,” said Max Sch­mid, EJF deputy direc­tor.

Mr Lin, from Tai­wan’s fish­ing reg­u­la­tor, said that in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Fu

Sheng 11 were con­tin­u­ing but con­ceded that over­sight of the in­dus­try re­mained prob­lem­atic.

“You can­not pre­vent bad guys doing bad things,” he said. “The role of the gov­ern­ment is to use ev­ery ef­fort to con­trol or mon­i­tor our fish­ing ves­sels, it doesn’t mean that wrong­do­ing won’t happen any more.”

The Fuh Sheng 11, de­clared ‘un­sea­wor­thy’ by South African of­fi­cials and dry docked for re­pairs in Cape Town

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