Indonesia’s Fight Against Modern Day Slavery

*Originally published on RYOT.org on August 18th, 2015 by Sean Sawyer*

After a week-long pursuit, an Indonesian naval ship finally seized the vessel Silver Sea 2 on August 13, according to The Diplomatfor allegedly carrying modern-day slaves. 

Colonel Sujatmiko of the Indonesian Navy confirmed to the Associate Press that its navy captured the massive Thai cargo ship and brought it back to port when the ship entered Indonesian waters.

“Indonesia’s action here is significant as it demonstrates a commitment to enforcing the actions of vessels within their waters, regardless of whether they are fishing illegally or trafficking labor,” saidTobias Aguirre, executive director of California-based nonprofit Fishwise, which advocates for sustainable, slave-free seafood.

The Silver Sea 2 is a vessel that is known to use slave labor to fish. Common practice by ships captains, like the Silver Sea 2, is to fish then have fishing vessels come and collect the fish at sea. This way they captains are able to exploit their workers by not allowing them to dock at a port for months at a time. This practice is what started the hunt for the Silver Sea 2.

Seafood From Slaves

A July 14th, 2015 satelitte image shows Silver Sea 2 unloading its catch to two fishing vessels. This was the ship can remain distribute its catch without docking in order to trap the slaves out at sea. The Indonesian Navy had been tracking the ship since this photo was brought to its attention. (Photo: DigitalGlobe via AP, File)

An AP investigation revealed that fish caught by slave labor powered ships hit close to home. The catch of these ships have been found at major food retailers and companies like Wal-Mart, Sysco and Kroger, and American pet food companies, including Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams.

RYOT highlighted a story a few months ago about a remote Indonesian island that was holding over 550 enslaved laborers. While organizations sought to reimburse these men tricked or captured into slavery for their months or even years of work, other were still being exploited. The fishing industry is one of the most prevalent industries to still use modern slavery. These people are often taken from Papua New Guinea and Myanmar.

The tales of the slavery onboard fishing vessels in Southeast Asian waters is horrifying and unbelievable for 2015. In one particular case, Burmese man Myint Naing shared his story to Dailymail UK. He spent 22 years away from home as a slave. When he was 18 he was lured away from home for a great offer to work as a fisherman in order to provide for his family.

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Myiant Niang returns home to Myanmar 22 years after being a slave for fishing vessels in Southeast Asia. (Photo: AP)

He was shipped from port to port working 24 hour shifts out at sea. He lived solely on rice and fish entrails. When he disobeyed his captain or asked to go home, he suffered harsh beatings and was forced to starve. He was also left outside for days in the hot sun and other harsh weather systems with no protection from the elements.

Today on Indonesia’s Independence Day, Indonesia blew up and sunk 38 ships that were illegally fishing in Indonesian water. “We have to be able to show that we can be triumphant on the sea because the sea is the future of our nation,” said Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesia’s Minister for Maritime and Fisheries. This is a step to combatting the slave use on fishing vessels in Indonesian waters. When the Indonesian island freed over 550 slaves, Pudjiastuti said, “We must solve this. It should never happen again, because it is embarrassing for Indonesia.”

Stories like Naing’s are eerily similar to other modern day slaves in the area. With last week’s capture of the Silver Sea 2 and today’s demonstration against illegal fishing, Indonesia is setting an example against the slave issue in Southeast Asia.

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