A government-commissioned task force has uncovered more illicit labour practices in Indonesia's eastern provinces after ongoing investigations into the audit results of companies in the fisheries sector.
According to the head of the anti-illegal fishing task force under the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, Mas Achmad Santosa, several fishery companies operating out of Ambon, Maluku, could be involved in human trafficking.
Achmad said his team managed to identify the perpetrators among a pool of 14 companies that were found guilty of employing foreign workers, but refused to divulge any numbers or identities, pending an official statement from Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti.
"We've identified companies that are involved in human trafficking practices, but the team won't reveal these companies until Minister Susi files a report with the National Police chief and it is legally processed like the Benjina case," Achmad told The Jakarta Post at his Central Jakarta office on Wednesday.
Achmad said the team had conducted an audit that analysed and evaluated foreign-built vessels of 16 Ambon-based companies, and discovered that only two firms did not employ foreign workers. The 2009 Fisheries Law bans the employment of foreign crew members.
"These 14 companies run a combined total of 119 vessels with 2,061 crew, most of whom originate from Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia," Achmad said, adding that there was a strong indication that most of these foreign workers were victims of human trafficking.
Following the discovery of the practice, the team issued a series of recommendations for Minister Susi regarding future compliance audits on fisheries companies, which included the implementation of a human rights audit, which Achmad argues "must be part and parcel of the evaluations and permit-granting procedure".
Indonesia has ratified the 1999 UN Convention on forced labour and has at least three legal instruments that guarantee punitive action, including Law No. 21/2007 on human trafficking that carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
The Ambon case emerges on the back of investigations into a similar case exposed early last month by foreign media reports of alleged forced labour practices on the remote island of Benjina, also in Maluku.
Police accused officials from PT Pusaka Benjina Resources (PBR), which is the only official fishing operation on the island, of having tricked hundreds of foreign workers into forced labour.
Achmad said investigations into the Ambon case revealed how the modus operandi for acquiring workers was similar to the Benjina case.
He said workers were promised high wages and then subsequently robbed of their freedom, unaware as to the nature and location of their work.
"Most of these workers arrive in Thailand and are sold off by labour brokers, fetching around 15,000-30,000 baht [US$455-908] per person," Achmad said.
According to data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which has partnered with the task force to investigate incidents of human trafficking in the region, there have been a number of cases reported in Ambon throughout the years, with five Myanmar nationals being the most recent victims recorded in February 2015.
Additionally, the IOM found 16 victims of human trafficking last September and 17 people in June earlier that year.
In Dec. 2013, the IOM reported 33 victims from Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia.
Meanwhile, the National Police, which recently arrested seven suspects in the Benjina case, are close to naming another 12 or 13 suspects based on the evidence collected.
Head of the human trafficking unit under the police force's detective division, Adj. Sr. Comr. Arie Dharmanto told the Post on Wednesday that authorities had sent a letter to the Thai Embassy in Jakarta to inform them of the possibility that several of their citizens would be incarcerated for criminal charges.
Arie said the suspects could be charged with human trafficking charges stipulated in Articles 2, 3 and 13 of Law No. 21/2007, which carried a maximum prison sentence of 15 years and a fine of Rp 600 million ($46,000).
Previously, the police arrested PBR employees Hermanwir Martino and Mukhlis Ohoitenan, as well as Thai ship captains Hatsaphon Phaetjakreng, Bonsom Jaika, Surachai Maneephong, Somchit Korraneesuk and Yongyit N.
The police had taken a sample of 50 victims out of the 357 Benjina victims for questioning, with testimonies indicating the involvement of several ship captains in the forced confinement of workers, Arie said.