Insight Briefing Note: Slavery at Sea and Emperors of the Deep

Press Release

26 July 2020

“The conditions are horrendous. With our a camera onboard, with observers, without the world knowing how these ships operate, modern-day slavery goes on unabated.”

London. UK. / New York. USA. Human Rights at Sea today publishes the latest in its series of Insight Briefing Notes looking at the work by US-based film-maker, author and ocean conservationist William McKeever into the issues of slavery at sea, working conditions, the need for fisheries observers, and the effects on the shark fishing and shark fin trade.

William set out researching his book Emperors of the Deep to learn about sharks and what was happening to them. He discovered that the tuna fishing industry was killing millions of them, and he was at first angry at the thousands of commercial fishermen that were decimating the global shark population for the Chinese shark fin soup market. Instead of accepting that they were bad people, he sought them out to understand them and found another truth, another unpalatable and shocking part of the story behind why sharks are facing the greatest threat they’ve ever had in their 450 million year history.

The book tackles all the issues surrounding their destruction including the lack of proper fisheries regulation. McKeever notes the link between tuna fisheries and shark survival: “With commercial fishing around the world and the pursuit of tuna, sharks are being caught in record numbers. The sad fact is that a hundred million sharks are killed every year, and the majority of those sharks go to make Chinese shark fin soup. For every 10 tuna caught for the canned tuna market, five sharks are caught. It’s devastating.”

And it is here that he encountered the truth about slavery at sea. Teaming up with Greenpeace, he discovered that the shark finning operations were mostly undertaken by slaves on Asian fishing vessels. Under the brutal oversight of the captain, they are forced to work long hours with little food and no medical care, and shark finning provides a modest income without which they would otherwise get little or no pay for their years of hard labour onboard. McKeever went to Cambodia to get firsthand accounts from former slaves. One man revealed that he earned $12 a month for the five years he was at sea from the finning. Others described the conditions they endured.

One said: “We had to work day and night without hardly any sleep. Most on the boat had swollen faces, because they didn’t get enough food.”

The author also engaged with Human Rights at Sea having flown to London to interview the CEO, and where cases that had come into the charity were discussed at length in terms of slavery, trafficking and human rights abuses at sea.

Watch the trailer HERE.

Download the briefing note to read more.

Insight Briefing Note: Slavery at Sea and Emperors of the Deep (26 July 2020)

A Human Rights at Sea series Insight Briefing Note (July 2020) on the combined issues of slavery at sea in the shark fisheries trade introducing field work undertaken by Ocean conservationist William McKeever.


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