The continuing enslavement of fishermen in trawlers sustaining the global fishing industry continues to be uncovered. The following story was first published in The Nation | Attributed to Pratch Rujivanarom | The Nation April 11, 2015.
“LONG-LOST” fishing workers and family members embraced in tearful reunions in Bangkok – some had not seen each other for up to 10 years – after another planeload of 68 fishermen flew back to their homeland directly from Indonesia on Thursday.
A Royal Thai Air Force C-130H military transport plane brought back Thai fishermen who had been stranded on Ambon Island in the east of the Indonesian archipelago. They flew back to Don Mueang Airport under a joint operation led by the Social Development and Human Security Ministry.
Natthanya Suksawaeng, sister of one of the “missing” fishermen, said she and her family had not heard any news from her brother since he joined the fishing fleet eight years ago.
“He had written a letter to inform the family that he would be part of a fishing vessel crew for a few months but we hadn’t heard anything from him since then,” Natthanya told. “My mother, I and all my family missed him so much.”
She and her family waited for Daecha Mahan’s arrival for four hours at the airport but the long wait had a happy ending. “I am so happy – I don’t know how to express it,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Her brother Daecha revealed that he had not expected to go abroad for so long.
“My friend persuaded me to work with him on a trawler for just a few months. He said we could earn a good deal of money from this job, so I decided to be a trawler crewman,” he said. He said he worked very hard on the vessel but he at least had acceptable accommodation on board and food to eat. Kanya Sarai, the mother of another missing fisherman, also burst into tears after finally being reunited with her son.
“He was just 15 years old when he told me he would go fishing with the fishing vessel. He has gone for nine years,” Kanya said. “I’m so glad the government brought my son back to me. It is like the government has brought my life back.”
Her son Komsan Sakulchatthong, 24, said most people on board his vessel were willing to be fishermen but some had been lured and tricked into doing this work.
“I worked hard but the living conditions on board were not too bad. Some captains were cruel but they had a reason to be cruel,” he said. After landing at the airport, all of the 68 fishermen were sent to Pathum Thani Provincial Protection and Occupational Development Centre in Thanyaburi district to help those who were victims of human trafficking to file a lawsuit against their employers.
The Social Development and Human Security Ministry also arranged accommodation for the men’s families while they are in Bangkok. All of the workers were expected to return home yesterday. The men were the second batch to return to Thailand in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, close to 550 men from Myanmar and Cambodia – most of them ‘slaves’ caught in the fishing industry – remain on Benjina and Tual islands in eastern Indonesia awaiting transport to return home. The International Organisation of Migration has reportedly sent the head of their office in Jakarta to investigate their plight.