Hundreds of fishermen rescued Friday from an isolated Indonesian island occurred after an investigation by the Associated Press investigation revealed the workers were enslaved to catch seafood possibly ending up in Western restaurants.
The hundreds of fishermen rescued were allowed to leave for another island by boat. Indonesian Fisheries Ministry officials probing for labour abuses and who issued a moratorium on fishing to crack down on poaching, told the migrant workers they can leave out of concern for their safety. As a result, more than 300 fishermen appeared from nearby trawlers, villages and even the jungle.
The hundreds of fishermen rescued have apparently been kept at the Pusaka Benjina Resources fishing company compound like slaves, according to the Daily Mail. Upon hearing news of their transfer, the hundreds of fishermen rescued quickly went back to their boats to get their meagre belongings and rushed back to the dock so they would be left behind.
The rescue proceeded with a small boat going from trawler to trawler, picking up men willing to go, and the boat was surprisingly loaded with about 30 men immediately.
Before news of the hundreds of fishermen rescued began spreading, the Indonesian delegation first interviewed men on boats this week, assessing the situation. In a story published by the Associated Press last week, officials heard of the same abuses that fishermen told them. The AP news reported of a company graveyard in Benjina, as well as eight fishermen locked in a company cage.
According to hundreds of fishermen rescued, they were beaten, kicked, whipped with stingray tails and given taser-like electric shocks. Some even said they were not given medicine when fell ill and. Others said jobs in Thailand were promised to them however they were issued fake seafarer documents and instead were taken to Indonesia.
Before the event of the hundreds of fishermen rescued this week, they had been forced to labor 20- to 22-hour days with no time off for little or zero pay. According to the AP story, their catch is then shipped back to Thailand, where it enters global markets.
At first, the Indonesian government officials who had the hundreds of fishermen rescued gave the invitation for protection to about 20 men from Myanmar who talked of their abuse, according to the Associated Press. However, news that some were getting to leave the island spread, and then dozens of other fishermen started appearing from all over. An official was later asked if men hiding in the forest could join them.
Asep Burhanuddin, director-general of Indonesia's Marine Resources and Fisheries Surveillance, said everybody was welcome.
"They can all come," said Burhanuddin. "We don't want to leave a single person behind."
According to the delegation, security in Benjina is limited as there are only two Indonesian navy officials stationed in the area.
The hundreds of fishermen rescued crowded onto seven trawlers and they will now be moved to Tual over 24 hours. They will reportedly be staying at a Fisheries Ministry compound until their identities are verified.
"I expected to evacuate all of them, but I did not expect it this soon," said Ida Kusuma, one of the leaders of the Fisheries Ministry delegation. "But I think it's good."
Kusuma added that the next step for the hundreds of fishermen rescued is to co-ordinate with immigration and their countries of origin.
According to the International Organization for Migration last week, there could be as many as 4,000 foreign men, many trafficked or enslaved, stranded on islands surrounding Benjina. This was revealed following a fishing moratorium called by the Indonesian Fisheries Ministry to crack down on poaching.
Billions of dollars in seafood are estimated stolen by foreign crews every year in Indonesia's rich fishing grounds.
The AP investigation reportedly lasted for a year, where the news agency used satellites to track seafood caught by the hundreds of fishermen rescued from a large refrigerated cargo ship in Benjina to Thailand. The investigation eventually led the seafood to supply chains of some of America's largest supermarkets and retailers, reported The Globe and Mail.
Because of AP report, the U.S. government and major seafood industry leaders have urged Thailand to end slavery at sea and punish those responsible.
With the hundreds of fishermen rescued, police are now conducting an investigation in Benjina. They will decide later whether to prosecute those involved, said Kedo Arya, head of Maluku province prosecutor's office.
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