The Fisheries Agency yesterday said it had previously referred a Taiwan-owned distant-sea fishing vessel, the Da Wang (大旺), to prosecutors for investigation, after the US this week halted imports from the ship based on credible reports of abusive conditions and the use of forced labor.
The statement came after the US Customs and Border Patrol on Tuesday issued an order banning shipments from the Vanuatu-flagged, Taiwan-owned vessel in all US ports, based on information that indicated that there was “the use of forced labor, including physical violence, debt bondage, withholding of wages, and abusive living and working conditions” on the ship.
The order followed reports by Greenpeace East Asia on abuses in Taiwan’s distant-water fleet, the second-largest in the world after China’s, the Associated Press reported.
Greenpeace interviewed several Indonesian fishers who said they had been forced to work up to 22 hours per day, had their wages withheld and were subject to beatings and threats while working aboard the Da Wang, the article said.
Greenpeace USA senior oceans adviser Andy Shen said that seafood giant Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Co (豐群水產), based in Taiwan, confirmed that the Da Wang had supplied it at least once last year, the article said.
Fong Chun, the largest tuna supplier in the Western Pacific, in January acquired Bumble Bee Foods, a leading US producer of canned tuna and salmon.
Fisheries Agency Deputy Director-General Lin Kuo-ping (林國平) said the agency had limited oversight powers over the Da Wang because it is registered in a foreign country, but in March it had asked prosecutors to investigate possible breaches of the Human Trafficking Prevention Act (人口販運防制法) aboard the vessel.
Lin Ding-rong (林頂榮), director of the agency’s Deep Sea Fisheries Division, said the agency had referred allegations of forced labor and physical violence against crew members to the Pingtung District Prosecutors’ Office, but was still waiting for the results of the investigation.
There are no laws in Taiwan banning the purchase of seafood shipments from vessels suspected of human trafficking, he said, adding that the agency would be “glad” if Fong Chun took voluntary steps to cut such vessels out of its supply chain.
Greenpeace Taiwan campaigner Pearl Chen (陳珮瑜) said the US order showed that Taiwan can no longer “sit and be silent” in the face of continued human rights abuses aboard deep-water fishing vessels.
International companies like Fong Chun need to set rigorous labor rights policies, which include audits of the ships they work with, transparent reporting on their supply chains and any suspected human rights abuses, and compensation for victims of such behavior, she said.
Chen also called on Fong Chun to improve the labor rights protections on fishing vessels it works with.
The government should regulate vessels flying flags of convenience and protect foreign workers from abuses, she added.
The nation’s distant-water fishing industry has come under scrutiny for repeated human rights abuses in the past few years, which have been documented by groups including Greenpeace and the Environmental Justice Foundation.
The US Customs and Border Patrol on May 11 issued a similar ban against the Taiwan-flagged fishing vessel Yu Long No. 2 (漁隆2號), based on suspicions of forced labor.
Additional reporting by Lin Chia-nan
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