Abuse and illegal fishing aboard Taiwanese vessel let slip through the net
The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has documented gross human rights violations and serious illegal fishing offences aboard the Taiwanese Fuh Sheng No 11 – the first vessel in the world to be detained for violating new international standards of decent work in the fishing industry. Taiwan had the opportunity to take action against the vessel earlier in the year after its detention by South Africa but instead conducted a botched inspection, announced there were no human rights issues and allowed it to go free. Crew members told EJF of beatings from the captain, 22-hour working days and serious injuries to crew working in dangerous conditions. They also reported that the vessel had illegally finned sharks, including endangered hammerheads.
In May, the Taiwanese vessel Fuh Sheng No 11 became the first ever to be detained under the International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) Work in Fishing Convention C188. South African officials cited a lack of work agreements and crew list, rotten lifebuoys, missing anchors and generally poor health and safety conditions, but the situation is much graver than first thought, the EJF investigation has revealed.
At the time of its detention in Cape Town, a Taiwanese Fisheries Agency official visited the ship but made a series of basic errors that led to the release of the vessel. The official reportedly issued questionnaires to crew in the presence of the captain – who allegedly beat crew regularly – and the crew said afterwards that they did not know who was giving them the questionnaires or what protections they would have if they reported the true conditions on the vessel. In addition, no interpreter was present despite some crew being unable to read the questionnaires.
Following this deeply flawed process and despite the findings of South African authorities, Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency issued a statement saying that their investigation had determined that the vessel only needed a few repairs, and it was allowed to leave Cape Town without facing any sanctions relating to human rights abuses or measures to protect the crew. EJF traced it to Mauritius in August, where, despite the Taiwan government having access to sophisticated vessel monitoring systems tracking the vessel and a trained fisheries official based in the Indian Ocean port, there was no further effort made to inspect the vessel or protect its crew.
At this point, amidst growing attention from NGOs and the media, most of the crew were sent to their home countries, where EJF made contact with them with the help of local partners. Along with the beatings, the crew said medical supplies were lacking and safety equipment was insufficient or broken. The men reported several serious injuries on the vessel and told EJF interviewers that they were “lucky” if they got six hours rest a day.
“We sometimes slept only 3 hours. It was like slavery. There were many cockroaches in the food […] and insects in the bedroom. I had a small boil on my leg which became so swollen that my trousers didn’t fit, and my tendon became taut. I shouldn’t have been working, but I was forced to,” said one man.
Another crew member described seeing his crewmate hit by the captain. “We felt angry, but could do nothing while at sea. […] We don’t dare because we are not…because Indonesian crew are only labourers, not people with standing.”
Salaries were below the Taiwanese minimum wage, and even then, deductions were made; one crew member reported that because of deductions he only received a monthly salary of only US$50 for the first five months. There were also further problems with the standards of the contracts and insurance the men received.
Human rights abuse was not the only factor – the crew were able to provide photographic evidence of hammerhead sharks – several species of which are endangered – and other vulnerable shark species being caught as well as photographic evidence that sharks were finned, which is against Taiwanese law.
Taiwan is currently subject to a formal warning from the European Union – known as a 'yellow card' – for not combatting illegal fishing, and the failure of authorities to establish that finning had taken place when the vessel was inspected will be of concern to those hoping to see recent changes to Taiwanese law succeed.
“The abuses suffered on this vessel are appalling and completely unacceptable. What is more, such abuse underpins the illegal fishing that is rapidly destroying the majesty of our ocean ecosystems and the fisheries which millions of people rely on. As one of the world’s most advanced economies, Taiwan has the means and technology to put a stop to these abuses in its fisheries,” says EJF Deputy Director Max Schmid.
“This case shows a series of missed opportunities on the part of the Taiwan government to take action to support ethical and legal practices in its fleet,” he added. “Taiwan must urgently review the measures being put in place by the Fisheries Agency to detect and react to human rights abuses, immediately implement fit-for-purpose, standardised procedures and ensure they are robustly implemented. To support this process, the Taiwanese government should immediately commit to bring its law in line with ILO Convention 188, which is designed to prevent exactly these types of situations from occurring.”
Notes for editors
Watch EJF’s film on the Fuh Sheng 11
A briefing setting out the detailed findings on EJF on Fuh Sheng No. 11 is available upon request.
An EJF gap analysis between Taiwanese law and ILO Convention 188 is also available.
Watch EJF’s previous films: Exploitation and Lawlessness: The Dark Side of Taiwan's Fishing Fleet and EJF's film on Taiwan's domestic fleet
Link to EJF’s briefing on Human trafficking in Taiwan's fisheries sector
● Taiwan has one of the largest deep water fishing industries in the world. According to the Taiwanese Fishery Agency, in 2016 it caught more than 820,000 tons. The export value of the industry over recent years has ranged between US$1.6 billion to US$2 billion. These products usually land in foreign countries, such as Thailand and Mauritius, and are then transported to local factories for processing before being re-exported to the final consumer markets.
● Taiwan produces seafood exports worth about US$150 million to the USA and US$17 million to the EU. Exports to Japan, a major market for the country, reach up to US$475 million. In addition, tuna exports to Thailand, much of which are processed and then sent on to the USA and EU, total $180 million.
● According to data provided by the Fishery Agency and Ministry of Labor, in 2016 there were about 26,000 migrant workers working in the Taiwanese fishing industry.
● The total value of financial losses due to the related problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is estimated at between US$10 billon and US$23.5 billon every year.
EJF is calling for:
- All countries to fully ratify and implement the International Labour Organization’s Convention 188 Work in Fishing, aimed at protecting the rights of workers within the fishing sector. In addition, all countries should implement legislation to prosecute national citizens engaged in human trafficking and address the role of unregulated brokers involved in human trafficking and labour abuses.
- All governments – and the private sector – to work towards reducing market access for illegal fish products and eradicate the risks of human rights abuses in seafood supply chains by strengthening transparency and traceability measures. Exchanging vessel and catch information between states and stakeholders can help identify and address illegal fishing. Mandatory IMO numbers, an end to the practice of flags of convenience and unsupervised transhipment-at-sea are also key.
The Environmental Justice Foundation is a UK-based charity working internationally to protect the environment and defend human rights. EJF is a charity registered in England and Wales (1088128). www.ejfoundation.org
Daisy Brickhill - EJF Press & Communications Officer