Nine Taiwanese have been indicted on charges related to the forced labor and abuse of migrant workers on a distant-water fishing vessel, the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors’ Office said on Wednesday.
The foreign crew of the Vanuata-flagged Da Wang (大旺), owned and operated by Kaohsiung-based Yong Feng Fishery (永豐國際生物科技公司), were subject to beatings, insults, confinement, and threats to withhold or deduct wages while working in the Pacific Ocean in 2019 and 2020, prosecutors said.
The vessel’s captain surnamed Lin (林), first mate surnamed Liang (梁) and seven others were indicted for their roles in the abuse of more than 20 Indonesian and Philippine workers, prosecutors said.
In some incidents aboard the vessel, Lin and Liang threw fishers’ clothes into the ocean, despite cold temperatures, prosecutors said.
Some Muslim workers were forced to eat pork to survive, as it was often used in meals while at sea, they said.
Liang was also involved in an incident in which a migrant fisher fell to the deck after being struck on the back of the head, prosecutors said, adding that the worker was found dead days after.
An autopsy performed at the Port of Suva in Fiji determined that the fisher died of pulmonary edema, caused by excess fluids in the lungs, they said.
Although the cause of death could not be directly linked to being hit on the head, the incident prompted 19 foreign crew members to quit over physical abuse aboard the ship, prosecutors said.
Although Taiwan has one of the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleets, migrant fishers lack adequate protections, prosecutor Liao Wei-cheng (廖偉程) said.
The “lawlessness” on distant-water fishing vessels leaves migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation, Liao added.
The treatment of fishers on the Da Wang was highlighted in the 2019 Greenpeace Southeast Asia report Seabound: The Journey to Modern Slavery on the High Seas, which detailed the abuse of migrant workers on distant-water fishing vessels, including excessive overtime of more than 20 hours per day and the death of a worker.
In July 2020, the US Customs and Border Protection issued a Withhold Release Order against seafood caught with what it said was reasonable suspicion of forced labor, physical violence, debt bondage, withholding of wages and abusive living conditions on the Da Wang.
The agency in January seized the catch of the ship, and announced it had determined that the Da Wang had used forced labor after investigations found evidence aboard the vessel of all 11 indicators developed by the International Labour Organization to assess forced labor conditions.
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