Indonesian Fishers Fight For Safe Working Conditions And Repatriation From The Marshall Islands
The prevalent issue of poor and abusive conditions for Indonesian migrant fishers continues to be highlighted internationally by local NGOs. Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia has been sharing evidence gathered to further shine a spotlight on fisher’s working circumstances, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, which fail to reflect the safety and well-being intent of the likes of the ILO C188 Working in Fishing Convention and highlight failures to look after migrant crew when contracts are terminated.
Crew and Vessel Safety Concerns
Mr. Abdi Suhufan, National Coordinator for DFW Indonesia has most recently highlighted his organisations’ concerns including the poor safety standards of fishing vessels. This results in Indonesian fishers being vulnerable to work-related accidents when carrying out fishing operations. Mr. Suhufan reflects that the high rate of accidents experienced by fishing boats evidences that work accidents regularly occur.
Between 1 December 2020-10 January 2021, 13 accidents were stated to have been experienced by fishing boats in Indonesian waters according to DFW. Consequently, the NGO is urging their Government to increase supervision, provide support, enable access to safety equipment, and ensure fishers and fishing boat crews participate in insurance programmes.
Repatriation requests from The Marshall Islands
DFW further reports that at the time of writing there remains 35 crew from Indonesian fishing boats stranded in Majuro. Majuro is the capital and largest city of the Marshall Islands with port facilities.
The crew were initially recruited and later terminated by the Indonesian employment agency PT. Puncak Jaya Samudera. Some worked on the Chinese-flagged long-line fishing vessel, Hua Nan Yu 702, which is registered with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and part of a client group fleet under MSC Certification (FFA VID 36778 / IRCS BZXW8).
With a contract period of 24 months and based on the proposed work agreement, the 35 crew originally departed Indonesia on August 22, 2018 for Majuro.
The present issue was revealed after one of the fishers gave a report to the Bitung Fishers Centre in Indonesia on January 7, 2021. The Fishers Centre is a crew complaint, education and information platform managed by DFW Indonesia and the Indonesian Plan International Foundation for the support of the Safeguarding Against and Addressing Fishers Exploitation (SAFE) Marine Project.
Based on information obtained by the Fishers Centre, the 35 crew have not been able to return to Indonesia due to the COVID-19 pandemic and which has caused limited flights to Indonesia from the Marshall Islands. The crew are said to have asked related parties (labour agencies and the Indonesian Government) to be repatriated to Indonesia.
Conditions and Challenges
Taking testimony over the phone to the Fisher’s Center, the crew member who highlighted their plight, stated they had been in a small shelter for five months and had not received any proper salary. As a result, they have had to ask other crew for food assistance.
They report that their shelter is cramped. The upper floor, that was once a warehouse, has been converted into a bed area so that it can accommodate all the crew members. While there, none can work normally and do not receive a contracted salary to support themselves and their families. Food rations are reported to be available, but for all other purposes and expenses the crew have to resort to their personal savings.
One fisherman said that to earn money, they sometimes worked unloading fish at the port. However, it only takes three – six people. In addition, it is reported that fish unloading can only be undertaken four times in every three weeks, or when a ship arrives, at a salary of US $ 1 per hour.
The Fishers Center received information that the crew had received an offer from the Indonesian manning agent for a contract extension. However, this has not yet been responded to because the crew have not been given adequate information regarding the extension. They have only been provided with a stamp-free photocopy with an undetermined contract effective date, and have been told that administration costs would be deducted from their salary.
“They have been directed to sign a statement letter of deduction of salary for five months amounting to USD 100 for administrative costs of registration and departure,” said Mr. Suhufan.