A joint research by Dr Sallie Yea and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) reveals that trafficked fishermen face insurmountable barriers to access legal and economic justice and protection. These barriers are caused by the following factors:

  • significant gaps in measures for victim identification,
  • a lack of coordinated support for the psycho-social needs and well-being of trafficked fishermen upon exiting the trafficked situation and during criminal justice proceedings,
  • a lack of political will of authorities from different jurisdictions to help secure documentary evidence and extradite witnesses hampering successful prosecution,
  • a lack of political will of concerned authorities to be pro-active in investigating named suspects involved in trafficking networks,
  • the tendency for concerned authorities to cite jurisdictional loopholes thus deflecting responsibility over investigating trafficking crimes and prosecuting alleged criminals.

The research focused on the trafficking of fishermen involving Singaporean, Taiwanese, Filipino, Cambodian and Indonesian actors working in collusion to deploy men into hyper-exploitative working situations on Taiwanese fishing vessels. The above conclusions were deduced from interviews conducted with fishermen victims, some of whom were also witnesses in criminal justice proceedings and plaintiffs in civil compensation cases, their family members and key informants from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international organisations in Singapore, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia. In addition, documentary evidence shared by interviewees were also produced to support the key arguments and news reports on recent high profile cases of trafficked fishermen were also cited to corroborate findings.

“The findings of this research confirm that despite recent sustained international attention to human trafficking and modern day slavery, there’s still much to be done to address the human tragedy of exploitation without redress experienced by trafficked fishermen whose lives if not broken are irreparably damaged in emotional, financial, relational and health terms as a result of their experience at sea,” said Dr Sallie Yea, the principal researcher of the report. “The report provides detailed insights on what trafficked fishermen from impoverished communities in the region have had to go through after exiting trafficked situations. Singapore is a significant transit point for fishermen and port of call for fishing vessels. The evidence presented also point to Singapore registered companies and Singapore actors performing an active role in recruiting and deploying trafficked fishermen in the two known cases involving Cambodian and Filipino fishers. We urge the Singapore government as well as the governments of jurisdictions from where other actors involved in the crimes of trafficking come from to resist deflecting responsibility, remove instituitional barriers, step up measures and abide by the guidelines and minimum standards set out by the UN Anti-Trafficking Protocol to punish those who are guilty of trafficking, protect victims and eradicate trafficking from the global supply chain of seafood ”, said Ms Shelley Thio, TWC2 Executive Committee and Senior Case Volunteer who has helped trafficked fishermen and their families and who contributed to the report.

Dr Yea and TWC2 have outlined nine recommendations to remove the barriers faced by trafficked fishermen in accessing legal and economic justice and protection. Some of these recommendations are for the governments in all concerned jurisdictions to consider while others are for the specific attention of the Singaporean and Philippines government and authorities. These recommendations cover the three key areas outlined below:

  • Victim identification
  • Provision of psycho-social needs for trafficked fishermen when they exit trafficked situation and during criminal proceedings
  • Prosecution of guilty parties

diluted_justice_downloadPlease see the Appendix (below) for the detailed recommendations. The full report in pdf format (including the recommendations) can be viewed by clicking the icon at right.


About the authors

Sallie Yea gained her PhD in 2000 from Monash University and has held academic positions in Geography and International Development respectively at universities in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Currently she is a Tutor and Honorary Fellow in the Department of Social Inquiry, La Trobe University, Australia. She has researched and published extensively on various dimensions of human trafficking and vulnerable migration, and has two books on the subject; a monograph titled Trafficking Women in Korea (2015) and an edited volume titled Human Trafficking in Asia (2013), both with Routledge. She has over twenty books chapters and journal articles on the subject, including in journals such as Annals of the Association of American Geographer, Antipode, Political Geography, and Environment and Planning D. She has also consulted for various governments and international organisations on human trafficking, including capacity building of NGOs and government officials on the subject.

TWC2 is a Singapore registered charity concerned with the welfare and well-being of migrant workers engaged in blue-collar jobs and migrant domestic workers working in Singapore. The organization provides direct services to meet the immediate needs of migrant workers in distress who have been injured and/or mistreated by employers. It also actively advocates fair and just treatment for such migrant workers by publicizing its research, engaging the public and publishing news stories and commentaries on migrant workers in Singapore.





For all concerned governments and authorities:

Recommendation 1.1:

Competent authorities with an understanding of indicators of trafficking for forced labour, preferably as these apply to the fisheries sector, need to be present at key ports of call and disembarkation and be given authority to inspect vessels for labour abuses in addition to the current focus on breaches of safety and environmental standards. These authorities need to develop coordinated responses in concert with a range of other stakeholders, including relevant foreign consulates, NGOs, and seafarer’s missions.

Recommendation 1.2:

Monitoring of vessels in all types of waters (territorial, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and international) needs to be strengthened in order to enhance efforts to identify potential victims whist they are still working on vessels at sea. This requires both ratification of relevant international conventions and binding commitments to their implementation. The most relevant of these are the ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention (No. 188), the IMO’s Torreemolinos Protocol, and the IMO’s Standards on Trading, Certification and Watchkeeping for Vessel Personnel (STCW-F). The STCW-F is currently the only of the instruments in force. Ultimately, many countries have domestically legislated for vessels carrying the flag of that country to be subject to domestic labour laws and standards, including the ability to inspect vessels for compliance to these same standards. However, lax enforcement and the use of flags of convenience have mitigated against the effectiveness of these legal measures. In the absence of strong international laws, it is imperative that states commit to implementing existing domestic legislation and that states look to amend domestic laws in creative ways that enable them to undertake inspections of vessels not bearing that country’s flag.

For Singapore authorities

Recommendation 1.3 (Singapore Port Authority and Ministry of Manpower)

Regulations governing access to the Jurong Fisheries Port drop-in centre should be relaxed to allow proper access for NGOs and seafarers’ missions. Currently, approval for access is granted on a yearly basis and stringent restrictions exist around the requirements for registered staff and volunteers. Automatic renewals should be granted and restrictions on the registration of staff and volunteers should be loosened. Better measures to ensure privacy for fishermen who use the drop-in centre should be provided so they cannot be easily observed by captains and officers of fishing vessels. The drop-in centre could, in the short term, be obscured from the view of fishing vessels, but in the longer term should at least be refitted so that whatever workers may do once they enter it is not visible from outside. Inside, it should be fitted with private counseling rooms so that fishermen can feel secure when speaking to staff members of the seafarers’ mission and not fear victimization. If functioning properly such a drop-in centre should be replicated in other major fisheries ports, including in South Africa, Fiji and Taiwan itself.

Recommendation 1.4 (Singapore Agri-food and Veterinary Authority, AVA)

Singapore’s Fisheries (Fishing Vessels) Rules (under the Fisheries Act) should be enforced more rigorously, especially with regard to checks on crew log records so that cases of missing crew members can be detected expeditiously.


For all governments concerned

Recommendation 2.1

In line with Article 6 of the UN Anti-Trafficking Protocol, people who are believed may be victims of trafficking should have access to means of earning a living while their cases are being investigated, wherever they remain while investigations proceed. This is a matter of fairness to people who have possibly been trafficked and also a practical matter of helping to ensure that they are able to support their families while remaining available to those responsible for the sometimes protracted process of investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases.

Recommendation 2.2

In accordance with Article 6 of the UN Trafficking Protocol, states should ensure they enable victims of trafficking and their families to seek and obtain compensation. The means by which they may do so should be explained clearly to them and in uncomplicated terms, at no net cost to them, and allow for circumstances in which the main beneficiaries of their trafficking may not be in detention or under the jurisdiction of the authority handling the compensation claims.

For the Philippines Government

Recommendation 2.3

Review and amend as necessary legislative provisions that exclude trafficked and exploited migrant workers from access to social and financial supports if they depart the Philippines through irregular channels. This would include migrant workers whose deployment was arranged through informally operating brokers and agents not registered with the POEA, and those who either enter into a verbal agreement or a written agreement of which they did not receive a copy with their agent.


For ASEAN governments

Recommendation 3.1

Within the ASEAN region, whether through ASEAN or other multilateral or bilateral channels, there should be greater commitment to build a more effective criminal justice system to facilitate investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of trafficking in persons. This should include improved information exchange, including the sharing of investigation findings and facilitation of the supply of relevant documentation, subject to reasonable limitations on legitimate grounds of privacy and security. National legislation that might impede this process should be re-examined and amended. The ASEAN Handbook on International Legal Cooperation in Trafficking in Persons Cases sets out sound bases for extradition, mutual legal assistance and assistance in recovering the proceeds of crime, but it is evident that there is some way to go to secure their implementation.

For the Singapore Government

Recommendation 3.2

The Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (POHTA) should be reviewed to ensure that it is fully consistent with the UN Anti-Trafficking Protocol, to which Singapore acceded in 2015, including the protective provisions of Article 6. It should also be determined whether the Act’s provisions adequately cover cases in which a Singapore-based company participates in any way in trafficking or other forms of exploitation that occur partially or wholly outside the territory of the Republic of Singapore. Just as a Singaporean national who commits a sexual offense against a minor while outside Singapore can be prosecuted upon his return to Singapore, so should it be possible under state law to prosecute nationals or residents complicit in the offence of trafficking, even if no specific illegal action takes place under Singaporean jurisdiction.