MANILA, Philippines – Philippine anti-trafficking authorities are set to investigate an alleged human trafficking case involving 36 Filipino fishermen who were made to work in the waters of Namibia reportedly under poor labor conditions.
The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) on Tuesday, March 28, announced that it had endorsed the case to the Department of Justice and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) for investigation and appropriate action.
According to affidavits of 26 repatriated seafarers, they believed that they would be working in Taiwan, but their group eventually ended up fishing in Namibia, a country in southern Africa.
“Based on the testimonies that we gathered, the fishermen were sometimes made to work for 36 hours straight with only two meals a day, and an average of four hours of sleep. Their identity papers including passports and seamen’s books were kept away from the workers which is a blatant violation of the rights of these seafarers,” said Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople.
Two industrial fishing vessels rescued the fishermen in Namibia in early September 2022. According to an Africa Defense Forum article, there were 60 rescued from the MV Shang Fu and Nata 2 vessels in Walvis Bay, and most of them were Filipino.
The DMW reported that the manning agencies involved – Trioceanic Manning & Shipping, and Diamond H. Marine Services & Shipping Agency – made appearances with the department and paid back wages to the fishermen.
But Ople said any financial settlements would not prevent Philippine authorities from investigating the criminal aspects of the case that led to the fishermen’s exploitation.
Ople added that there are enough grounds to investigate the manning agencies for forced labor trafficking.
Meanwhile, the fishermen’s principals, Shang Chi Enterprise Ltd, One Marine Services, and Arrow Marine PTE Ltd, also face permanent disqualification from hiring Filipino fishermen, Ople said.
Manning agencies are considered the employers of sea-based overseas Filipino workers.
The Namibian newspaper reported that the other fishermen rescued from the vessels were nationals of Namibia, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mozambique, and Angola. Namibian police said that during the investigation, there were no medical officers on board either vessel, and no sufficient blankets.
The DMW brought the case to the IACAT for its “international dimension,” as well as the “gravity of contractual and labor violations committed against the fishermen.”
“We cannot turn a blind eye to another country’s quest for justice and our own laws against human trafficking because to do so may encourage similar abuses in the future,” said Ople.
The Philippines is a top supplier of seafarers all over the world. In 2021, the country deployed 345,517 seafarers, according to data from the Maritime Industry Authority. – Rappler.com
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