Mon, Apr 16, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Film highlights abuses of migrant fishermen

‘Exploitation and Lawlessness’ explores the human costs of Taiwan’s fishing industry

By Joe Henley  /  Contributing reporter

Migrant fishermen working in Taiwan’s long-distance fishing fleet face abuse, exploitation, and uncertain pay, according to an investigation conducted by the Environmental Justice Foundation.

Photo courtesy of Daisy Brickhill, Environmental Justice Foundation

The life of a migrant fisherman employed in Taiwan’s long-distance fishing fleet is fraught with danger and uncertainty. The job means months spent at sea, sometimes working shifts of up to 24 hours straight without rest. When rest is afforded, it comes in cramped, squalid living quarters below deck. On deck, workers could be subjected to all manner of verbal and physical abuse, including that doled out with weapons such as swords or firearms.

Such are the revelations brought to light in a recent short film released by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Exploitation and Lawlessness: The Dark Side of Taiwan’s Fishing Fleet.

The film highlights an 18-month investigation conducted by the London non-governmental organization. The NGO’s findings paint a grim picture of life aboard vessels flying the Taiwanese flag.

Most migrant fishermen who were interviewed for the film, the majority from countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia, reported either witnessing physical abuse carried out by senior Taiwanese crew members, or being victims of abuse themselves.

All interviewees, according to the film, said they were either underpaid for their time at sea or not paid at all.

Currently there are more than 1,800 Taiwanese distant water vessels operating in waters around the globe. Hundreds more are owned by Taiwanese but fly flags of convenience.

ILLEGAL PRACTICES

Ships changing flags or names while out at sea, operating without a proper license, engaging in illegal transshipment of crew or catch between vessels at sea or employing outlawed practices such as shark finning are common, according to those interviewed in the film.

The film’s main focus, however, is the way in which these illegal practices employed by Taiwanese vessels go hand in hand with human rights abuses.

When it comes to the latter, the heart of the problem is the fact that in 2013 the Taiwanese government ruled that distant water fishery workers recruited abroad do not fall under the jurisdiction of Taiwan law, leaving them in what amounts to legal limbo.

Nevertheless, the responsibility for the protection of migrant fishermen in the long distance fleet has been placed on the Fisheries Agency, a branch of the government with its offices in Kaohsiung which has a limited mandate to shield migrant workers from abuse and exploitation.

In the film attention is drawn to the allegation that on the whole the Fisheries Agency is not familiar with the few laws that are in place for the protection of migrant fishermen.

“They don’t have experience in this area and there is no appropriate training provided to them,” Max Schmid, Deputy Director of the EJF, tells the Taipei Times.

“At higher levels, we have been told there is an eagerness to tackle the issue,” Schmid adds. “They have developed a questionnaire for fishermen to respond to, but responses to these have not resulted in any sanctions or further action as far as we are aware.”

Lennon Wong (汪英達), international coordinator with the Serve the People Association (SPA, 桃園縣群眾服務協會), an NGO that provides shelter and assistance to migrant workers that have fallen victim to abuse in Taiwan, is less forgiving in his assessment of the efforts of the Fisheries Agency to make progress on the issue thus far, chalking up the lack of forward momentum to willful ignorance.

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