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Troubles Not Over for Myanmar Fishermen Saved From Slavery in Indonesia

More than 600 Myanmar fishermen were saved from slavery aboard fishing boats moored in Eastern Indonesia more than a year ago. None have received compensation from the government.

by VICE Staff
24 October 2016, 4:18am

A fishing vessel moored off the coast of Thailand. Photo via SeaDave/Flickr.

Indonesian authorities have only awarded compensation to 11 of the more than 600 Myanmar fishermen found trapped in slave-like conditions on Maluku's Benjina island, according to a Myanmar official. And even that money, has yet to arrive.

An official in Myanmar's Anti-Human Trafficking Unit said that while hundreds of fishermen who were forced into slave labor aboard Thai fishing vessels working in Indonesian waters have returned home, Burmese authorities have been unable to accurately verify their stories.

"When the fishermen returned home, we collected data from more than 400 of them but we did not receive adequate information from some of them," Police Lieutenant Colonel U Thet Naung said at a recent meeting in the country's capital. "Some of the fishermen did not know who owned the trawlers they worked on. We transferred all the data we compiled to the Indonesian authorities."

Indonesian authorities combed through the information, but, so far, they are only able to grant compensation to 11 of the human trafficking victims. Indonesian police said they would continue to investigate the matter with the hopes of settling more cases.

"We asked the Indonesian officials at the meeting about this case," U Thet Naung said. "They told us that their courts had so far decided to compensate 11 fishermen."

But, as of Oct. 24, none of the fishermen have received funds from the Indonesian government. Myanmar officials said their counterparts in Indonesia were still debating how best to deliver the money to the trafficking victims.

"Indonesia has yet to decide whether they will bring the money to Myanmar to give to the fishermen or whether they will have to travel to Indonesia to claim it," the anti-trafficking official said.

The fishermen were repatriated after a year-long investigation into slavery in Thailand's fishing industry by the Associated Press uncovered evidence of widespread abuse, withholding of wages, and death aboard boats operated by the Indonesian-owned, but Thai operated Pusaka Benjina Resources.

The report triggered condemnation in Indonesia and abroad and cast a light on an issue experts said has long plagued Thailand's fishing industry. The murky Thai fishing industry is rife with allegations of slavery, abuse, and human trafficking. Much of its catch vanishes into opaque international markets and ends up on supermarket shelves as far flung as the United States.

The fishermen, more than 2,000 of them, were freed from slavery, and the company lost its license to operate after Indonesian authorities launched an investigation into the allegations. But the company has allegedly restarted operation in Eastern Indonesia, and is now the focus of a new inquiry by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, according to a recent report by the environmental watchdog site Mongabay.

"If we let this go on, it means we give slavery our blessing," Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said at the time.