Jakarta (ANTARA) - On June 5 this year, two sailors — Reynalfi, 22, and Andri Juniansyah, 30 — jumped off Chinese-flagged fishing vessel Fu Lu Qing Yuan Yu 901 as soon as it entered Indonesia's territorial waters in the Malacca Strait.

After about seven hours adrift, they were rescued by local fishermen from Tanjung Balai Karimun, Riau Island, Sumatra.

The two Indonesian crew members reportedly decided to jump off the vessel because they could not withstand the treatment they received on board. They cited lack of food and drinking water and being forced to work very long hours as reasons for jumping overboard. They also claimed they were intimidated and physically harmed, either by the ship’s captain or by Chinese crewmen.

The two Indonesian citizens were allegedly victims of human trafficking, according to a report by Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW).

“The allegation of forced labor emerged after we found violations such as unpaid wages, poor working conditions, threats and intimidation, [all of] which Andri Juniansyah and Reynalfi experienced,” DFW Indonesia coordinator M. Abdi Suhufan told the media.

According to DFW data, at least 30 Indonesian crew members have been victims of such violations on board Chinese vessels between November, 2019 and June, 2020. Seven of the crew reportedly died, three remain missing, and 20 have survived.

With several cases coming to light, the DFW has called for a moratorium and evaluation of the policy of sending Indonesian seafarers to work on Chinese-flagged fishing vessels.

There have been allegations of human trafficking and forced labor against irresponsible perpetrators at home, who have been sending Indonesian seafarers to work on Chinese fishing boats, Suhufan noted.

Reports on the ill-treatment of Indonesian fishermen on Chinese fishing boats have triggered an uproar in the world’s largest archipelagic country.

Earlier this year, a controversial video emerged of the sea burial of an Indonesian seafarer on a Chinese-flagged fishing vessel. .Later, news came to light of 46 Indonesian crew members enduring violence and ill-treatment on four Chinese ships: Long Xing 629, Long Xing 605, Long Xing 606, and Tian Yu 8.

Four of the 46 Indonesian crew members died: three of them died on the boats and their bodies were buried at sea, while the other crew member succumbed to an illness in South Korea. Most of the surviving crew members were repatriated to Indonesia.

In early May this year, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi summoned Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian to express concerns over the alleged mistreatment of Indonesian workers on Chinese fishing vessels.

“In regard to the burial at sea for the three Indonesians, the Indonesian government has again demanded clarification on whether the burials followed ILO [International Labor Organization] standards. The Indonesian government has also expressed concerns over the poor living conditions on the ships that allegedly caused the death of the four Indonesian crew members,” she said.

She also demanded that Chinese authorities investigate the working conditions on the fishing ships.

“If the investigation finds that there’s a violation, then we want the Chinese authorities to uphold enforcement that is fair,” she said.

Indonesia has also asked the Chinese government to help ensure that Chinese companies uphold workers’ rights, including payment of salaries, and provide safe working conditions.

In his response, the Chinese ambassador assured Indonesian officials that his government would make sure the companies uphold regulations and contracts.

Later, the Chinese Government and the operators of fishing ships Long Xing 629 and Tian Yu 8 argued the sea burials of Indonesian seafarers, who died during service, were in keeping with ILO rules.

They also claimed the crew members were buried at sea with the approval of their families.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim) and the the Chinese authorities are jointly investigating cases of abuse involving dozens of Indonesian seafarers on Chinese-flagged boats.

"Indonesia expects a fair and transparent resolution to the investigation into cases (of violence and human trafficking) by the Chinese authorities," Foreign Minister Marsudi stated on June 12, 2020.

Concerned over reports of seafarer abuse, Speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), Bambang Soesatyo, has urged police to conduct a thorough investigation.

"The police should conduct an investigation into the alleged abuse of Indonesian crew members on Chinese ships, and along with the Foreign Affairs Ministry, file a lawsuit if there is evidence of abuse," Soesatyo, popularly known as Bamsoet, said.

Police should summon the manning agent who recruited the two sailors — Reynalfi and Andri Juniansyah — who jumped off their vessel in Malacca Strait, he stated.

The agent can be charged with possible fraud since, based on their work contracts, the two crewmen were to be sent to textile and steel plants in South Korea and paid Rp25 million to Rp40 million per month, the Golkar politician said.

"There is an indication of illegal recruitment of sailors. Hence, the agent must be held accountable in the case," he stressed.

The government must improve the monitoring of Indonesian migrant workers and be more selective in issuing work permits to Indonesians recruited as migrant workers, he said. It should take serious measures against irresponsible recruitment agencies, he added.

In the meantime, GP Ansor, a youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, has denounced the news of Chinese fishing boats burying the bodies of three Indonesian crew at sea, hinting they were likely victims of "human trafficking".

The “human tragedy” involving sailors is evidence of “modern-day slavery”, said chairman of the GP Ansor's central executive board, Yaqut Cholil Qoumas.

The Chinese fishing companies that recruited the seamen must apologize for the incident and fulfill all normative rights of the deceased workers, he added.

The agents who recruited the Indonesian seafarers are also being investigated by the Human Trafficking Crime Task Force, according to head of the National Police’s General Crime Unit, Police Brigadier General Ferdy Sambodo.

The authorities suspect the departures of the ship's crew members were not carried out in accordance with proper procedures.

The cases have revealed that modern-day slavery still exists in the fisheries sector, and highlighted the need to end it immediately.

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Editor: Rahmad Nasution
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