Indonesia catches foreign ships, deploys Police to investigate slavery

The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry seized seven foreign fishing vessels caught in the act illegally poaching in the Natuna Sea in the Riau Islands on Sunday.

The Vietnamese-flagged vessels were caught on April 12 at dawn by a team led by the ministry's marine resources and fisheries surveillance directorate general (PSDKP).

"Hiu Macan 001, a surveillance vessel has captured seven Vietnamese ships conducting illegal poaching activities," the PSDKP head Asep Burhanuddin said during a press conference in Jakarta on Monday.

According to Asep, none of the ships had legitimate documents. He said the ships, along with the 84 crew members, had been sent to the PSDKP office in Pontianak, West Kalimantan.

During his media briefing, Asep also shared an update regarding the forced labour case connected with PT Pusaka Benjina Resources (PBR) in Benjina, Maluku.

A recent Associated Press report exposed alleged forced labour practices on the remote island of Benjina, in which the only official fishing operation on the island, PT Pusaka Benjina Resources (PBR), was suspected of treating hundreds of workers as slaves, even throwing some workers into cages.

According to the report, most workers were brought into the country through Thailand and forced to fish, oiling the gears of the global seafood supply chain. Most were reported to have originated from the countries neighbouring Thailand, namely Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

The number of enslaved foreign workers included 316 Myanmarese, eight Laotians, 58 Cambodians and 746 Thai nationals. Most of the workers with Thai documents are thought to be from other countries, having obtained Thai papers illegally. As many as 322 people were relocated to the larger port city of Tual, also in the Aru Sea.

According to Asep, the company had managed to employ various methods to lure the foreign workers to Benjina.

"There are three modus operandi: recruiting non-Thai workers, promising workers unrealistic pay and coercing workers to sign an empty work contract," Asep said.

Furthermore, he said that most of the workers employed were between 19 and 20 years old and had no legal documents on them.

National Police Deputy Chief Comr. Gen. Badrodin Haiti said on Monday that the police had already created a team to investigate the Benjina case.

"We have already formed a team and are on it," the National Police chief candidate said at the State Palace.

Badrodin explained that the police force did not have the authority to revoke the operator's license but it would seriously investigate the slavery report.

Meanwhile, head of the police's human trafficking unit at the police force's detective division, Adj. Sr. Comr. Arie Dharmanto, said that his unit had already started their investigation.

"We highly suspect that the Myanmar nationals were tricked into thinking that they would be working in Thailand, when instead they were sent to work on a ship in Indonesia," he told reporters at the National Police headquarters in South Jakarta.

Arie said that initial investigations had led the police to believe that the crew members were given fake documents, which indicated that they were Thai citizens. Once they started working on the ship, the documents were held by the fishing company, Pusaka Benjina Resources, and the workers were not paid.

"Anyone who asked for their wages was immediately detained in a type of cell," he said, adding that the police had counted up to 700 men that had become victims of trafficking who were currently still in Benjina.