Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More Thai Slavery and Exploitation in the News-Via 4AM Expat

Survivors of Thai death ships sue firm owner


Gulf Times Newspaper, 2007

Published: Tuesday, 27 March, 2007, 08:57 AM Doha Time

MAHACHAI, Thailand: Survivors of a Thai fishing fleet left adrift in Indonesian waters without enough food or water, causing the deaths of 39 fishermen whose bodies were thrown overboard, sued the owner yesterday for unpaid wages.

Activists hope the landmark court case involving 61 survivors and relatives of the dead will lead to criminal charges and expose what they call a modern form of slave labour involving illegal migrants from neighbouring Myanmar.

“There was no food, no vegetables. Just smelly rice,” Soe Moe, a 27-year-old Burmese seamen, said at the Labour Court in Mahachai, a fishing port on the Gulf of Thailand.

“There were dead bodies close to me. I was afraid I was going to die,” said Soe Moe, who is demanding 100,000 baht ($2,850) in wages.

The fleet of six trawlers operated by a family-owned firm, Praphasnavee, sailed from Mahachai in 2003 with crews of mainly illegal Burmese migrant workers, who were given false Thai names and documentation.

Part of an area known as “Little Myanmar”, Mahachai, in the province of Samut Sakhon, is home to a major fisheries industry that employs tens of thousands of Burmese migrant workers.

Soe Moe, who was given the Thai alias Saichon, said he had expected to stay in Indonesian waters for 45-day rotations for a number of years. In fact, many of them spent 35 months on board, working shifts with only 2-3 hours sleep, without setting foot on land.

They were resupplied monthly with food and fresh water by supply boats which took their frozen catch back to port. After 2-years, permits for the six trawlers to fish in Indonesian waters expired. While they were waiting for renewed permits, the supply ships did not come, survivors said. With no fresh food or water for more than two months and little money to buy supplies from other ships, men began to die. Some of the victims became bloated and bled from the nose, ears and anus before they died, survivors said.

“I was almost unconscious. I didn’t know when they would dump me into the sea like others,” Thai survivor Sangiem Fuangfu said. In all, 39 men died, of whom two were buried in Indonesia.
The other 37 bodies were thrown overboard “because the captain thought taking them back to Thailand would cause him trouble”, Soe Moe said.

When they returned to Mahachai in July last year, the survivors were each given 3,000 baht. When their repeated requests for unpaid wages were batted away by the employers, they enlisted help of the NGO Legal Rights Protection Network (LPN) to fight their cause.

“No value was placed on the lives of these seafarers, considered as little more than slaves by the employer,” LPN has said.–

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