Thai fisherman: I was a slave

Wan Chai Chaiya-Wu had been at sea for 18 years, paid $300 per year and given just two days on shore every three months.


    Bangkok, Thailand - Before he was rescued in March, Wan Chai Chaiya-Wut had been at sea for 18 years, effectively working as a slave.

    He was paid approximately $300 per year and got two days on shore every three months when his boat was taken to a remote Indonesian island for maintenance.

    "I was a slave," Wan Chai told Al Jazeera. "I'd never been at sea before. I didn't know how to fish".

    His fishing boat was Thai but those on it fished illegally in Indonesian waters.

    What they caught would be collected at sea by bigger vessels and taken on the two-week trip back to Thailand.

    Once at port, it would be unclear who caught the fish, and whether or not the catch was legal.

    Fishermen unload a catch from a Thai vessel. It is not always clear where the fish come from [Andrew Thomas/Al Jazeera]

    A Thai charity, the Labour Rights Protection Network, recused 68 men from such forced labour in March.  

    According to monitors with the European Union, "serious shortcomings" in Thailand's inspection systems mean that in addition to human rights abuses, unsustainable fishing practises are commonplace too.

    In late April, Thailand was given six months to turn things around or face a ban on its exports to the EU.

    Thailand's seafood exports are worth about $8bn a year, with a large portion being exported to Europe.

    To try to prove it is taking the warning seriously, Thailand's military government has put its navy in charge of a toughened-up monitoring process.

    This includes more checks on boats, GPS tracking of bigger vessels, and tougher penalties for those caught with workers - or fish - they should not have.

    The Thai navy have been performing inspections on fishing vessels [Andrew Thomas/Al Jazeera]

    Near Bangkok, we were encouraged to film as one boat returned from a week at sea.

    "The government is sincere about solving this problem. That's why the navy is here," Pisan Hanpakdee, Thai navy spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.

    "If the European Union isn't satisfied by October, we'll keep running this operation until it is."

    However, not all are convinced. A representative of Greenpeace Thailand told Al Jazeera that they believe what the Thai government is doing is "just public relations".

    As for Wan Chai, after almost 20 years, fishing is all he knows. He wants to go back on a boat but neither as a slave nor as part of a dark industry illegally plundering the sea.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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