By Wisit Chuanpipatpong
MANY PROBLEMS related to human trafficking and the lack of efficient administration in the overseas fishing industry remain unsolved, a seminar at Chulalongkorn University (CU)'s Asia Research Centre for Migration was told.
Speakers said administration issues were leading to continued labour exploitation, corruption and harming the environment.
Abhisit Techanitisawat, a board member and honorary adviser to the Thai Overseas Fisheries Association (TOFA), said the long lasting issues had caused much damage, but had been ignored by the public sector. He said his group asked for help from government agencies but received no response.
“Even our four crew members [of a transnational fishing boat], captured by Somalian pirates four years ago, have not yet been rescued,” he said.
Abhisit said business operators and the public continued to ignore human trafficking gangs operating at Mor Chit Bus Terminal, Hua Lamphong Railway Station and Sanam Luang in Bangkok, despite his call to tackle them seven years ago.
He admitted there was still violence towards crews by boat captains in the industry and urged the government to ensure crewmembers’ access to social security benefits.
Bundit Chokesanguan, from the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Centre (SEAFDEC), said there should be a vessel database for the region to reduce illegal fishing, which remains chaotic. If this were done, it would ease other issues in the fishery business too, he said. the centre is now collecting data on vessels 24m-long and longer, which should be complete by the end of this year.
Bundit suggested implementing “Port State” controls, which authorise officials to enforce regulations such as inspecting vessels or prohibiting them from anchoring at a port. Myanmar and Indonesia observe these controls but Thailand and others still have not adjusted their laws to support this.
Thailand’s overseas fishing industry had forced labour, plus administrative and personnel issues, he said.
CU research centre director Professor Supang Chantavanich presented a 2012 study of 596 Thai fishing crewmembers, both on coastal and overseas vessels.
The study found that 17 per cent of crewmembers were “forced labourers”, 5.4 per cent of whom said they were lured or forced on to boats by agents. Among the 17 per cent, workers were kept on a vessel, in a house or at a port while their documents were retained by employers, she said.
The study also found violence towards these crewmembers, she added. Many were in debt and 12 per cent said they were unfairly paid and threatened with being reported to the police.
A key finding was environmental damage from illegal fishing activities, such as catching fish during the spawning season and using small-scale drift nets to take undersized fish.