In April 2022, 39-year-old Anwar* from Surabaya, Indonesia, was desperate. Work opportunities were scarce, and with no money, he was hungry and feeling hopeless.

Whilst searching for vacancies on Facebook, Anwar found an advertisement looking for fishing crew in fishing port of Muara Baru, Jakarta, with fantastic benefits, including free meals, coffee, cigarettes, shelter, loans, employment contracts for four months and a salary of IDR 4-5 million (US$ 263) per month.

"I'm thrilled with the vacancies because the salaries and facilities offered are very attractive," said Anwar.

To apply for the position, all he needed was a Citizenship Card (KTP) and Family Card (KK), so without hesitation, Anwar applied and was successful.

He was collected by a broker, an agent working on behalf of the vessel, via public transport and he departed from his hometown of Surabaya, and made the long nine-hour journey to Jakarta.

Maruli*, 29 years old, told a similar story.

After he had his contract terminated in an East Jakarta refill water agency, Maruli struggled to find enough food for his family and used Facebook to search for vacancies.

He soon found a group offering crew positions with good salaries and benefits, and again, all he needed to apply was a Citizenship Card (KTP) and Family Card (KK).

Maruli contacted the phone number on the Facebook page, and on April 23 2022, he departed his hometown and made his way to Jakarta, where he met Anwar, and both lived in temporary accommodation for a month whilst waiting for the broker to decide where they would be placed.

During this time, the broker restricted their movements; phone calls were not allowed freely, and even weekly worship was supervised.

"The broker continued to monitor and accompany all potential crew members when outside the mess so they don't run away," Maruli said.

The broker offered Maruli to several vessel owners, but due to his lack of experience, he was rejected.

However, on May 20, 2022, the recruiting staff informed Maruli and Anwar that they would be working on a fishing vessel in the port of Muara Baru and would be setting sail at the end of May 2022.

Whilst waiting for the vessel to depart, Maruli and Anwar started working on the ship, preparing plywood tools, washing clothes, and loading supplies.

Photo of ship

The day before departure, Maruli, Anwar, and dozens of other fishing crew received a loan of IDR 6 million (US$395) from the ship's owner to give to their families.

However, from the IDR 6 million, Maruli only received IDR 800.000 (US$ 52), and Anwar received only IDR 700.000 (US$ 46). The broker had deducted funds, and the men were told that this was to cover their living expenses over the last month.

Maruli said: "Brokers took money to replace the transportation costs, buy the fishing rods, sponsors, people in charge, job provider services, and my living expenses for one month in a mess." 

On May 29 2022, Anwar and Maruli boarded KM Nudi III* at Nizam Zachman Oceanic Port, and they set sail towards fishing ground in the Indian Ocean near Sri Lanka.

The majority of the crew members had very little experience, if any, of working at sea, and on the day of departure, none of the 38 workers onboard received a medical check nor had any of them signed a contract, and when they confronted the Captain, they were met with insults.

"We are confused and afraid to know the treatment and conditions on the ship," Maruli said.

The working conditions on board were horrific and a far cry from what had been advertised. Crew members said they survived on fish and rice for breakfast and lunch, which caused various skin conditions due to the lack of nutrition. Access to medical supplies was limited; they slept in makeshift beds and also had no option other than to drink yellow water contaminated by rust.

Anwar added: "The drinking water on board is sourced from seawater distilled into freshwater.. water on ships is often contaminated by ship rust because it is stored in uncleaned places. The water that has turned yellowish has been contaminated with rusty hatch pipes,"

Contaminated yellow water held by seafarer


And whilst the crew were forced to drink polluted water, the skipper had access to his own reservoir, free from contamination.

During sailing, the catch was loaded onto a collector ship to be sold on the land, and the collecting vessels and transporting cargo provided logistics to the fishing vessel crew, such as food, cigarettes and coffee.

Rice was free; however, all the other benefits promised to the crew had to be paid for and were offered to the workers at above-market value.

"The price is up. A cigarette filter pack usually costs Rp 21.000 (US$1.39), but they are sold to the crew for Rp 25.000 (US$ 1.65). Coffee for Rp10.000 (US$ 0.66) per sachet but in the ship, it rises to Rp20.000 (US$ 1.32) per sachet." said Maruli.

Maruli's suffering continued, and whilst working on the vessel, he often experienced intimidation, violence, and even death threats. On one occasion, he was approached by a skipper who suddenly started beating him and threatened to shoot him.

Maruli explained: "I don't know what went wrong. Suddenly, I was beaten up and threatened to be shot with an assembly weapon."

After an agonising eight months at sea, on January 20 2022, the crew anchored back in the fishing port of Oceanic Fishing Port Muara Baru, Jakarta, to be told that after the skipper's calculations, they would not be receiving any money for the work they had endured.


National Coordinator for Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, Moh Abdi Suhufan, said that Indonesia's government had not fully protected the domestic fishing vessel crew and added, "The rules for managing fishing boat crews do not contain the process of recruiting and supervising fishing boat crews while working, while that is a sensitive point for violations."

As a result, recruiting through many brokers occurs and develops without supervision, causing losses to fish vessel crews and possibly ship or company owners. He suggested that the regulations on the management of domestic fishing vessel crews must be updated by including aspects of fair recruitment and supervision of fishing vessel crews by the manpower and fisheries authorities at the central and regional levels.

The Manager of the National Fishers Center, DFW Indonesia, Imam Trihatmadja, said that during the month of January 2023, his party received three complaints from fishing boat crews with a total of seven victims who indicated they were victims of brokering which led to forced labour practices, worker exploitation, and even human trafficking.

"Fishing vessel crews reported the incident from the Jakarta Muara Baru fishing port, the largest and most modern fish landing and distribution centre in Indonesia," said Imam. He added that in 2022, the number of complaints that entered the NFC was 25 reports, with a total of 86 victims.

Disclaimer: Maruli, Anwar and KM Nudi III in this report are pseudonyms to protect their identity. Reports of victim complaints have been submitted to the National Fishers Center and have been referred to the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries on 7 February 2023. 

Thank you to 
Moh Abdi Suhufan, DFW Indonesia National Coordinator, for additional reporting. 

Images: DFW Indonesia

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