Slave fishing in NZ waters exposed

PRIME PARKING: The Korean-flagged Shin Ji - which was fishing for Maori quota eels until its crew walked off alleging abuse - in Auckland.
PRIME PARKING: The Korean-flagged Shin Ji - which was fishing for Maori quota eels until its crew walked off alleging abuse - in Auckland.

Disturbing levels of inhumane conditions and abuse have been found among the foreign charter fishing vessels (FCVs) operating in New Zealand's exclusive economic zone, a University of Auckland Business School study reported tonight.

The long awaited study into conditions suffered by 2000 mainly Asian men on 27 vessels backs up reporting by Fairfax Media this year which has led to a joint ministerial investigation into the operations.

Dominated by aging Korean fishing boats, the FCVs are mainly used to fish Maori quota with most of their catch shipped straight to China for processing.

Senior lecturer Dr Christina Stringer, PhD candidate Glenn Simmons and fisheries consultant and former skipper Daren Coulston interviewed crews and families in two Asian countries, and obtained dozens of files using the Official Information Act to expose the operations.

They also have contracts, false time sheets, bank statements and bonus sheets which show New Zealand officials are routinely and systematically lied to over wages and conditions.

They found FCVs engaged in illegal dumping and high grading - throwing quota and by-catch fish overboard in the hope of getting higher value commercial catches later.

"Not in New Zealand's waters, surely?" focused on the operations of Sajo Oyang Corporation of Korea which last year had six men killed when the 30-year-old Oyang 70 sank off the Otago coast.

Replacement crew on Oyang 75 have walked off the ship in Lyttelton objecting to poor wages and abuse.

Sajo Oyang Corporation spokesman Glenn Inwood has yet to react to the university study but following a Sunday Star-Times preview called the study "ludicrous and bizarre".

The university report includes statements from sailors and witnesses.

"Officers are vicious bastards ... factory manager just rapped this 12 kg stainless steel pan over his head, splits the top of his head, blood pissing out everywhere...," one informant told the university.

"I told the Master can't leave him cause he's bleeding all over the squid. He said 'oh no no he's Indonesian no touchy no touchy'... Took him to the bridge and third mate said 'Indonesian no stitchy no stitchy'. I ended up giving over 26 stitches ... bit of a mess."

An Indonesian fisherman who survived a Korean boat was quoted in the study saying they were trapped on the boat: "We were trapped into modern slavery ... in the old days slaves were not paid and chained, now we are paid and trapped ... but we are worse than slaves."

A New Zealand official quoted in the study said: "A floating freezer ... absolutely appalling conditions just like a slum ... there are definitely human rights abuses out there, they are slave ships."

Another said: "Live like rats."

Foreign officers also sexually abused Indonesians at sea, according to the report.

A fisherman said: "The captain asked one by one to give him a massage ... from head to toe ... we don't want to do it, but I am pressured to do it... every day."

Said another: "Galley boy, good looking boy on a Korean boat was raped by four Chinese crew who got him...."

The study also recounts the plight of "Eula" lost her husband "Mohammad" when Oyang 70 sank off the South Island last year.

For their safety, it is not their real names.

The new widow, trying to earn a living as a cleaner in Jakarta earning $4 a day, said she went to see the agent who hired her husband. There was insurance and backpay that would have made a difference to her young child.

Simmons, who met the woman and her family and friends in Java, told of what happened when Eula saw the agent.

"They said husband's insurance money has not come from the Korean agent and if you want to get insurance money, you must sleep with the director of the agency for a few days," a  friend of Eula told Simmons.

"After (she came) back she cried loudly and could not speak. Then she asked where should she complain, whether there is justice and righteousness on earth"

In 1999 Eula helped her husband "Mohammad" get a job through a manning agent on Oyang 70, with promised earnings of US$280 ($332) a month.

To get the job she had to sell her wedding present gold necklace, to pay a five million rupiah ($700) manning agent fee.

Under the deal, the agent would pay 1.5 million rupiah each month to Eula and retain the balance until Mohammad returned home at the end of his two year contract. The agent would take up to 50 per cent as a fee.

The study revealed that a foreigner on an FCV can expect to earn between $6700 and $11,600 a year while a foreigner working on a New Zealand-flagged fishing boat would earn between $60,000 and $80,000.

Meanwhile, the Oyang 75 crew remain in Christchurch accommodation trying to get money owed to them.

In Auckland a crew from a related Korean FCV, the nearly 30-year-old Shin Ji - which is moored right in front of Auckland's new multi million dollar event centre - are also fighting for their wages.

But the Government is ordering them out, with Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson ignoring a request from Labour MP Darien Fenton.

Green Party MP Keith Locke said given that Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley has ordered an inquiry, it was unjustice to report the Oyang 75 crew.

"New Zealand has a responsibility to make sure the Oyang 75 crew get the payments they are legally entitled to. There is no guarantee the Korean owners will oblige once the crew members are back in Indonesia," Locke said.

"It is shameful that New Zealand has allowed such shocking conditions to exist on these fishing boats for so long. It's not far off slave labour, and a dark stain on New Zealand's reputation."