Research by Sallie Yea
With contributions by Shelley Thio from TWC2
The report shows that trafficking characterizes a significant proportion of the experiences of the fishermen on the boats that dock in Singapore’s ports. These fishermen suffer various abuses during the recruitment and deployment process (in the Philippines and Singapore), at sea (in international waters), and after exiting their situations of exploitation, including in Singapore and upon return home to the Philippines.
Responsibility for this issue presents complexities because the boats are primarily Taiwanese-owned; the manning agencies are Singaporean; the fishermen originate from several Southeast Asian countries; the labour exploitation takes place at sea. Men as victims of trafficking generally have been overlooked until recently and their support needs cannot necessarily be read off from those of women and girls.
The instrument which could prove most relevant to combating trafficking at sea is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, with its provisions against the slave trade. Establishing slavery as a means of extending protections to trafficked fishermen is something that the Singaporean, Taiwanese and Philippines governments at a minimum should currently be exploring.
The data that informs discussion in the report consists of a review of 63 case files of trafficked Filipino fishermen kept by the Philippines Embassy in Singapore (including affidavits for some); in-depth interviews with seven Filipino fishermen who ‘jumped ship’ when docked in Singapore and sought assistance from the Philippines Embassy, and in-depth interviews with five men whose cases were recorded by the Philippines Embassy, but who had since returned to the Philippines. In addition, the author drew on information provided by the only NGO in the Philippines to be working on this particular form of human trafficking, namely Asia-ACT, as well as on information provided by TWC2, a Singapore registered NGO.