Two Ecuadorian refugees in Canada who claim to have been enslaved and tortured aboard a deep-sea fishing boat illustrate a disturbing phenomenon of exploitation on the high seas, experts said.
Based on their grisly tales of being fed to sharks over a bet, threatened with death and raped on the ship Dolphin Free, a Canadian tribunal ruled that brothers Paulo Cesar Romero Cedeno and Christhian David Romero Cedeno can stay in the country.
Now their spokesman, Rasik Shah, says they want the ships owner prosecuted. They said the Dolphin Free is owned by their aunt Julie Smith and her boyfriend, of New Zealand.
The men, from Ecuador, escaped from the ship here in 2004, and made a refugee claim. In a written ruling last month Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator Fred Hitchcock called the men "very credible and trustworthy."
Hitchcock's decision said that Paulo Romero Cedeno, 28, had told the board: "The captain and two Fijian crew members grabbed him, took off his clothes, soaked him in fish blood and then the captain threw him into the ocean."
He was pulled out of the water to find that bets were placed on whether sharks would kill him.
The London-based International Transport Workers' Federation, which documents abuses of human rights at sea, said in a June report, "The maritime and fishing industries continue to allow astonishing abuses of human rights of those working in the sector."
It said exploitation is routine, and worse on fishing vessels.
"We're aware of many cases, though this one is particularly bad," federation spokesman Sam Dawson said by e-mail.
The Cedeno brothers told the adjudicator that Smith offered Paulo Cedeno a job in 2002, and flew him to Canada where the Dolphin Free was in port. She failed to help him after he complained of being tortured, they said, and later sent Christhian Romero Cedeno, 21, to the ship in 2003.
Christhian Romero Cedeno told the tribunal he was coerced to join the ship's crew after the aunt told him she had a New Zealand student permit for him.
Paulo Romero Cedeno was allowed to attend their mother's funeral in Ecuador in 2003, but his brother was held hostage. Christhian would be killed if Paulo told anyone about their treatment or failed to return, they said they were told.
Christhian was also "sexually assaulted by crew members," said Hitchcock's ruling.
The pair escaped in November 2004, when the ship docked in Vancouver.
Both men now work as construction laborers and plan to remain in the city, said Shah, a retired lawyer.
"We'd like to get some compensation, and for their aunt to be punished," Shah said.
"Slavery goes on in the high seas on fishing vessels, and they may still be doing it with other people," he added.