Ian Urbina, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, spent years researching the abuses in Southeast Asia’s fishing industry. In the above video, he visits a detention centre in Indonesia where he meets with (mostly Vietnamese) men who had been detained when their fishing vessels were arrested in Indonesian waters. Bring only fishing crew, they didn’t have any control over where the boat sailed to, but once arrested, they are seen as illegal immigrants and held in idle limbo.

Next, Urbina joins an Indonesian patrol vessel which soon finds a Vietnamese trawler fishing in the country’s waters. What follows however reveals another challenge when trying to stop exploitation and abuse on fishing vessels: the difficulty of getting even fellow ASEAN member states to work together to police this industry in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, countries like Thailand are desperately short of manpower for their fishing fleets. It’s hardly any wonder that Thais are less and less willing to join this industry when practices are archaic and abusive. In 2014, the United Nations estimated that the Thai fishing fleet faced and annual shortage of 50,000 mariners. To fill the gap, ever more desperate measures are taken and the term “sea slavery” is quite apt. The vessels rely more and more on trafficked workers.

Karaoke bars in Southern Thailand may have long doubled as brothels, but now they double as debt traps too. The unsuspecting boys might find themselves shipped out to sea for months, some for years.

Coming out soon is a book, The Outlaw Ocean, the fruit of years of investigating one of the darkest sides of Southeast Asia. Pre-orders can be made through this site:  https://www.theoutlawocean.com/the-outlaw-ocean/