Researcher Sallie Yea gave a talk on Tuesday, 8 January 2013, launching her preliminary report on human trafficking in the fishing industry. The event was organised by Transient Workers Count Too.

To an audience of about 30 persons from embassies, government and media, she spoke about her study of 63 cases of Filipino fishermen who had reported abuses to the Philippines embassy in Singapore while aboard fishing trawlers that docked here. She described to the audience how misleading advertisements, contract switching and unexpectedly multiplied debts disempowered men in the trade, leaving them at the mercy of ship captains. There were reports of inadequate food rations, insufficient warm clothes and untreated injuries. The men were kept on board vessels for over a year with no contact with their families. “The families thought they were dead,” Yea said, citing her interviews.

Several aspects of their experiences echoed indicators of trafficking.

An abstract of her report can be seen by clicking this link (there is also a download link on that page for the full report).

Her talk was followed by several questions from the floor. In her replies she noted that she has encountered official responses from Singapore that took the form that the abuses occurred on international waters and were outside our jurisdiction. However, she pointed out that the victims had reported being locked up and held on Singapore land while waiting to be transferred to vessels.

In any case, with respect to abuses on board the vessels while at sea, she said the “continual denial of responsibility  . . . is not a response that will lend itself to any action to assist these men.”

“The question about responsibilities should not be justifications for inaction,” she made clear. “Responsibility can be reconfigured, for example, by legislative amendments or international protocols.”

She cited the example of New Zealand which has passed a new law that requires all foreign fishing vessels wanting to enter and operate in New Zealand waters to reflag to New Zealand flag. This will bring them under the country’s laws including labour laws.

See this story from 3News: Foreign fishing vessels to obey New Zealand law (22 May 2012).

“If Singapore reflags [fishing vessels], it would allow manning agencies to come under the Maritime and Port Authority Act,” she said. “The MPA has responsibility for monitoring Singapore flag vessels; there would be an instant mechanism by which fishing vessels can be regulated.”

TWC2 will be funding the next stage of Sallie Yea’s research, which will involve fieldwork in three regional countries and interviews with men who had been recruited into the fishing trade via Singapore.

The talk was held at the Heritage Place on Tan Quee Lan Street with TWC2 exco member John Gee making the introduction. Exco member Shelley Thio also helped answer questions from the floor; she had worked on several cases of fisherman who were so traumatised, they sought help after their ships docked here.

TWC2 volunteer Sophie Colardelle and TWC2 Aministration Officer Christine Scully were behind the reception desk:

The Straits Times and Today newspaper carried reports of the launch.