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Abuse Of Human Rights Aboard Illegal Vessels

Economics Politics

GENERAL - In the year that the International Maritime Organization has designated The Year of the Seafarer, a new report published today by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) exposes extensive human rights abuses suffered by crews working on illegal pirate fishing vessels.

Fishing is already one of the most dangerous occupations in the world yet EJF’s report documents crews on illegal boats working under slave like-conditions, facing daily exploitation and abuse. The new report calls for urgent international action to address illegal fishing and labour conditions, including a global ban on the use of Flags of Convenience by fishing vessels.

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) or ‘pirate’ fishing is devastating marine environments, stealing from developing nations and unsustainable. It is driven by the enormous global demand for seafood and is symptomatic of the wider crises in world fisheries.

Findings published by the Environmental Justice Foundation expose how in their drive to maximise catch and minimise cost, illegal ‘pirate’ fishing operators ruthlessly exploit the crews working aboard their boats. EJF’s new report ‘All at Sea – the abuse of human rights aboard illegal fishing vessels’ documents how individuals working on pirate fishing vessels can be subject to excessive working hours, incarceration, and physical abuse up to and including murder. Often forced to work at sea for months and even years, in many cases the working conditions suffered by these crews meet International Labour Organisation (ILO) definitions of forced labour.

The report provides case studies from West Africa, Southeast Asia, the Indian and Pacific Oceans, all regions with high incidences of illegal fishing. Human rights abuses directly documented by EJF and other organisations, including the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), include physical and emotional abuse, incarceration, forced labour without pay, abandonment, and reports of murder.

The majority of workers on IUU fishing vessels are hired through recruitment agencies that target vulnerable, powerless individuals who are very often not experienced fishers and are hired from rural areas in developing countries where alternative work is in desperately short supply.

Unfortunately for these crews, the international legal instruments needed to address the human rights abuses aboard illegal fishing vessels do not exist, are voluntary, or have not been ratified by the international community.

In particular EJF’s report highlights the need for a closure in the loophole in international law which allows illegal fishing vessels to fly ‘Flags of Convenience’. Hiding behind Flags of Convenience allows pirate fishing operators to hide their identities and avoid fisheries and labour laws, directly contributing to the devastation of fish stocks and the abuse of crews.

EJF Executive Director, Steve Trent: “Pirate fishing, driven by a growing unsustainable global demand for seafood, is now threatening the future of world fisheries. There are profound social, economic, and environmental impacts, not least the appalling exploitation and abuse crews aboard these vessels can face. It is simply not acceptable that illegal fishing vessels are able to operate outside the law. But it is in our power to stop these pirates and central to the steps we can take is a ban on Flags of Convenience.”

EJF’s Senior Campaigner, Duncan Copeland: “EJF investigations have revealed not only the environmental devastation caused by illegal fishing, but also that the owners of these unscrupulous operations will go to any lengths to cut costs and maximise their profits.

"If it’s not bad enough that consumers risk eating fish that’s been stolen from some of the world’s poorest countries, there’s a real chance it’s been caught by crews working in horrific conditions that amount to little more than slavery. The international community has to date simply failed to adequately address pirate fishing operations, and measures must be achieved to ensure that these pirate vessels can no longer steal fish and abuse their crews."

Jon Whitlow, International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Seafarers' Section Secretary: "We would like to welcome the new EJF report exposing human rights abuses suffered by crews working on illegal "pirate" fishing vessels. The ITF have always maintained that there is an inextricable link between IUU fisheries and flags of convenience registers allowing the beneficial owners to be hidden, making it easy for unscrupulous operators to evade regulation and abuse fishers.

"We believe that states should take their responsibilities seriously and through ratification and proper implementation of the ILO Work in Fisheries Convention No 187, 2007and by implementing effective flag and Port state control on working and living conditions for fishers make eradication of the IUU fishing possible."