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Jakarta Post

Indonesian sailors’ deaths on Chinese fishing vessel raise questions about working conditions

  • Rizki Fachriansyah and Dian Septiari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, May 8, 2020   /   10:32 am
Indonesian sailors’ deaths on Chinese fishing vessel raise questions about working conditions Chinese fishing boats that were caught operating illegally in Korea's exclusive economic zone are moored at a port in Incheon, South Korea, on Oct. 10, 2016. (Yonhap via AP/Yun Tae-hyun)

The deaths of four Indonesian crew members with links to the same Chinese fishing vessel have raised concerns about working conditions on the vessel and others like it.

The case first entered the public eye after a video allegedly showing Chinese sailors throwing the body of a dead Indonesian crew member overboard went viral.

The footage was first featured on a news segment on South Korea’s Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) on Tuesday.

The video shows what appears to be an orange body bag being thrown off a fishing vessel by a group of men. One man can be seen praying in front of the body bag moments before it is thrown overboard.

Two unidentified Indonesian sailors who worked on the vessel spoke to MBC about their experience, claiming that those aboard the ship had endured poor living conditions.

“We had to [work] for around 30 hours. We were given a meal break every six hours. We would just sit around during the breaks,” one of the sailors said.

The other sailor said they were made to drink filtered sea water during work, which eventually took a toll on their health.
“We became nauseated. We could no longer drink [sea water]. There was one time when our throats became clogged with phlegm,” he said, adding that some even experienced breathing difficulties.

In a press briefing on Thursday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi confirmed that, in the past few months, four Indonesian sailors who had been registered to Chinese fishing vessel Long Xin 629 had died.

One of the sailors, identified only as EP, died at the Busan Medical Center in South Korea on April 27. Another sailor, identified as AR, died on Chinese fishing vessel Tian Yu 8 on March 30. Two other sailors died on Long Xin 629 in December 2019.
“On April 26, the Indonesian Embassy [in Seoul] was informed that a citizen with the initials EP was sick. When they contacted him, he said that he had long suffered from difficulty breathing and had coughed up blood,” Retno said. “The Busan Medical Center said that he died from pneumonia.”

Retno said that, according to a statement from Tian Yu 8, AR had fallen ill on March 26 and was moved from Long Xin 629 to Tian Yu 8 to be taken to port for treatment. However, AR died before the ship reached port and was buried at sea on the morning of March 31.

“According to the embassy, the ship had informed AR’s family and received approval for a burial at sea on March 30,” she said.

The two sailors who died in December were said to be buried at sea after dying of an infectious disease.

The Migrant Care advocacy group criticized the treatment of Indonesian crewmen on the Chinese vessels, saying that the harsh work environment infringed on their basic human rights.

“What these Indonesian crewmen experienced was a violation of their human rights. They were robbed of their freedom by working in an inappropriate environment. They were deprived of their right to information and, ultimately, they were robbed of their right to live,” Migrant Care executive director Wahyu Susilo said in a statement, adding that the case was a form of slavery in modern times.

Retno said the Foreign Ministry had summoned Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian on Thursday to express concerns about the alleged mistreatment of Indonesian workers aboard 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 the ILO [International Labor Organization] standards. The Indonesian government 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 conduct an investigation on the working conditions of the fishing ships.

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

Indonesia also asked the Chinese government to help ensure that Chinese companies fulfill the workers’ rights, including their salaries, and provide safe working conditions.

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