32 men jump ship amid claims of ill-treatment
A group of 32 Indonesian fishermen who quit their boat alleging "inhumane treatment" are faced with deportation.
The men left the Oyang 75 in Lyttelton Harbour more than a week ago, claiming physical and verbal abuse from Korean officers and alleging the company had not paid them fully for their five months on board.
The vessel is Korean and was chartered by Christchurch company Southern Storm Fishing. It was brought to New Zealand to replace the Oyang 70, which sank off the coast of the South Island in August last year with the loss of six crew.
Last night, Southern Storm Fishing said it had done nothing wrong and the crew had no reason to leave the boat.
"Southern Storm Fishing rejects claims of employee mistreatment and says it is the focus of an anti-foreign worker campaign being undertaken by competitors in the fishing industry," a statement read.
It said the fishermen have been paid in full and would soon be served with deportation notices by immigration officers.
Through a translator – the president of the Canterbury Indonesian Society, Ani Kartikasari – a fisherman called Slamet said he had been beaten by an officer after he accidentally brushed against the man's groin.
The fishermen said the incident was the final straw and they decided to leave the boat early on June 20. They have been staying at a backpackers' hostel in Christchurch since.
Southern Storm Fishing said it understood the walk-off was in sympathy with a crew member after a physical confrontation.
"Both a senior officer of the Oyang 75 and an Indonesian crew member raised competing allegations," the company said. "The police told the company it considered them to be minor, no charges were laid, and the investigation closed to the satisfaction of the individuals involved."
Kartikasari said the crewmen told her they were physically and verbally abused.
They alleged officers hit them with a rope ifthey worked too slowly and they were made to stand for half a day in a particular position on the boat.
A fisherman called Abor said he was punished after he took too long to do painting work. He said he was hit with a paint roller and told to stand in the "heat for half a day".
"They don't want to work in such an oppressive environment. And what they wanted to achieve by leaving the boat is their wages being paid," Kartikasari said.
Wellington law firm Izard Weston, which represented the fishermen over their pay claims, said it had been forced to withdraw from the case.
Senior associate Joanne Verbiesen said: "We were hoping we'd be able to recover payment of the crew's wages. It's obviously an issue of concern the way they've been treated. Their hope rests with the Department of Labour and Labour inspectors coming to their aid."
The alleged treatment of the men was not a surprise.
"We have no reason to believe it's any different to the treatment other foreign fishermen are receiving on other boats. We certainly believe it is [an issue throughout New Zealand] based on the evidence to date in various reports done by the Government and independent parties.
"You'd certainly think questions would have to be asked when this is happening so soon after what happened on the Oyang 70."
The company said there was no "inhumane treatment" of fishermen aboard the vessels run by Southern Storm Fishing and Sajo Oyang. It said flights home had been arranged for the crew but representatives had refused access to hand over the tickets.
Last night, the Department of Labour said it was investigating the allegations.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said the department was aware of "concerns" about practices on the Oyang.
"We have these matters under inquiry," he said.