16 January 2021
[Updated 17 Jan 21] London, UK. / Suva, Fiji. Humanitarian ship visitors’ working with the UK charitable NGO, Human Rights at Sea, have been alerted to two exploited Indonesian crew on a Chinese owned Fijian-flagged long-liner abandoned in the Port of Suva without their wages apparently being paid for 12 months. Crew circumstances include having to continue to work onboard without pay, having minimal access to communications, allegedly being kept on the vessel without shore access and their identity documents being retained.
[Update]. The vessel, the He Shun 38 (No.00359) is one of the 58 vessels within the fishery certified in 2020 by UK-based Acoura Marine Ltd. trading as Lloyd’s Register to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Standard. MSC does not certify individual vessels.
According to a Fiji Fishing Industry Association (FFIA) MSC Group Vessel list 2020 (220520) published by MSC, the He Shun 38 and its sister ship He Shun 6, belong to He Shun Fishing Co Pte Ltd registered in Walu Bay, Suva.
The humanitarian volunteers immediately highlighted the issue to the Indonesian Embassy whose staff attended the vessel in direct support of the crew.
It was suggested that the crew could not leave the vessel outside of any COVID-19 restrictions, and that an issue of transfer of ownership between Chinese entities in October 2019 related to the non-payment of their wages, which is currently under investigation. Further, the vessel had no means of generating electricity and is currently being powered from an adjacent vessel.
From their personal funds, the volunteers provided fresh fruit rations, and $20 credit for both crew’s phones so that they could speak with their families due to their irregular contact with their dependants. At the time of writing, the Indonesian Embassy has reacted immediately and is providing logistical support to the crew, while the owners are being sought and any maritime liens applied in favour of the crew.
Urgent Questions to be addressed
- Labour exploitation through non-payment of crew wages and ongoing requirement to work onboard a vessel without pay.
- Retention of crew identity documents.
- Level of knowledge of crew’s exploitation and abandonment by owners, managers, certification agents and certification bodies, and flag State, noting the period of non-wage payment.
- Failure to assure regular crew communications with families.
- Failure for crew to have access to welfare services in Fiji.
- Flag State administrative measures to be taken against exploitative owners.
It is estimated that the country’s offshore fishing industry contributes over FJ$200 million annually to the economy. As reported by The Fiji Times
, the industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and has sought Government intervention to keep the industry afloat. The Fiji surface longline fishery first gained MSC certification in December 2012. Fiji was the first country in the world to obtain MSC-certification for a Surface Long Line Fishery.
In-country attempts to contact the owners and the FFIA at the time of writing have been unsuccessful. Human Rights at Sea has further contacted MSC and Acoura Marine Ltd for comment and is awaiting responses.
[Update]. 17 Jan 21. The Fiji Maritime Safety Authority has been in contact with HRAS and will be looking into the case. MSC have contacted HRAS and are investigating.
NB: The affected crew provided voluntary statements to the ship visitors and embassy staff, and have provided permission to highlight their case.