PNG authorities rescue slave labourers from Thai cargo ship
Authorities in Papua New Guinea have rescued at least eight fishermen kept in slave-like conditions on a Thai-owned refrigerator ship and are hunting for other ships.
Authorities in Papua New Guinea have rescued at least eight fishermen kept in slave-like conditions on a Thai-owned refrigerator ship.
The Blissful Reefer has been impounded in Daru, after authorities were tipped off by a report that included satellite photos and other intelligence.
The chief of mission for the International Organisation for Migration in PNG, George Gigauri, says the men were part of a larger group of forced labourers to be distributed to various fishing boats.
Mr Gigauri says that nearly 20 other crew members from the Blissful Reefer are still to be questioned, who could also be victims of human trafficking.
He told Jamie Tahana that the ship appears to be connected to a wider trafficking ring, with PNG authorities still looking for other ships in its waters.
GEORGE GIGAURI: Basically, it all started in Indonesian waters a couple of months ago when the Indonesian government, with IOM support, impounded a large number of vessels with victims of trafficking on board, basically enslaved fishermen. Now some of the ships escape into PNG waters known as the dogleg area. The IOM was tipped off about this happening and then, together with the PNG government, we went in to respond and Blissful Reefer is the ship that has been impounded and there is also a search and rescue and surveillance operation ongoing in the remainder of the dogleg area for other vessels.
JAMIE TAHANA: So this is the first vessel to be impounded but an operation is ongoing to capture more around PNG, is that the case?
GG: That's correct, if they are still in PNG waters.
JT: This ship that you've impounded, what have you found in it, eight slave labourers?
GG: Well actually the eight confirmed have already been transferred to our transit facility in Port Moresby. Now there are nineteen more that need to be interviewed and we hope that will happen soon as well.
JT: What do we know about what they were subjected to here?
GG: Well, based on the Indonesian caseload, it's basically forced labour, it's vocation based on restriction of freedom of movement and in certain cases abuse. I can;t talk about this specific group of people yet because the operation and the investigation is ongoing, so I can't disclose those details. But I can tell you about the larger group to which we suspect they're connected, and that's the victims that were rescued in Indonesian waters, and that profile is basically an enslaved fisherman who is forced to work, not let out on land, and not paid, and abused; predominantly from Myanmar and Cambodia.
JT: How do they get to be in this situation, where next thing they know they're on a ship in PNG waters?
GG: Well, that's a very good question and that's something that we hope to find out as well. But ultimately they would have been recruited to work on a vessel as crew, expecting a normal kind of seaman employment, and then things turn sour and they become exploited. But in terms of how it was done and where it was done, there's still a lot of questions we don't know.
JT: What happens to the men now?
GG: What's going to happen now is that after the government issues all the information that they need to build their case, the IOM will repatriate them home.
JT: What about the ship? That's been impounded by the government, has it? What goes from here?
GG: I'd love to tell you but I can't because, again, it's a very sensitive matter and the investigations are ongoing, so if I disclose those details, it might compromise the operation.
JT: There is the belief though that this is just a small part of a wider trafficking ring that may be operating around the Pacific ocean, is that the case?
GG: Well, let's put it this way: everything seems to be pointing that way. I know that the government of PNG is co-operating with the Indonesian government as well as various other governments but I couldn't tell you... I wouldn't say that other Pacific countries are involved. But certainly co-ordination is ongoing partly at an international level.
JT: How much of a problem is this?
GG: Look, we've seen boats everywhere. From the northern tip of Africa to the Pacific to Mexican waters. The smuggling and trafficking is a global phenomenon, and exploitation of forced labour, we see it everywhere as well, so I think this is just a fraction of what's happening in the world. A lot is being done but we need to do much, much more. I think we need to look not only at the issue as a humanitarian assistance angle but we have to look at it in all angles, from the point of view of law enforcement, from the point of view of inter-agency co-operation, intelligence gathering, and of course involving... in countries like PNG where there are a lot of remote areas and perhaps infrastructure's not available everywhere as well... we need to have a look at the role of communities in border surveillance to assist the government to respond to potential cases of smuggling and trafficking.
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