FISH-i Africa support of Operation Jodari, a partnership between Tanzanian authorities and international conservation organisation Sea Shepherd, has revealed the appalling treatment of crews aboard fishing vessels in the Western Indian Ocean.

The Ocean Warrior, Sea Shepherd’s custom-built civilian offshore patrol vessel, has enabled authorities to inspect fishing vessels operating in its EEZ, well beyond the usual reach of Tanzania’s patrol. “We have seen some really shocking treatment of fishing crew during the Operation Jodari inspections” commented JD Kotze, FISH-i Africa investigator and adviser for the Multi-Agency Task Team on Operation Jodari.

Twelve Tanzanian crewmembers from at least three fishing vessels were liberated from the TAI HONG NO 1, a Chinese flagged longliner. The crew all complained about bad treatment and abuse. They were refused water and food on board and were living in a small, unventilated storage hut with sleeping bunks for two crewmembers, the rest of the 12 were sleeping on the floor.

One of the vessels reportedly transhipped crew to the TAI HONG NO 1 and another Chinese flagged vessel the JIN SHENG NO 2. “When the inspection took place the vessel was cleared, but reports from the crew and observer were sufficient to grant a fine for mistreatment and obstruction,” commented Assistant Inspector Juma Said Mhada of Tanzania’s Multi-Agency Task Team.

Tanzanian authorities are currently assisting as 14 Indonesian nationals who had been working aboard Malaysian registered longliner, the BUAH NAGA 1, are repatriated home after crying out for help when the inspection team boarded the vessel. Hosea Gonza Mbilinyi, Acting Director General of the Deep Sea Fishing Authority in Tanzania reports that inspectors boarding the BUAH NAGA 1 uncovered a truly shocking situation. “The living quarters on board the BUAH NAGA 1 were appalling and the crew reported abuse as well as being denied food and water.  The Captain used a 9 mm gun to threaten the crew and keep them under his control.”

Per Erik Bergh of Stop Illegal Fishing commented, “We are saddened but not surprised by the discovery of mistreatment and exploitation that is taking place on fishing vessels in the Western Indian Ocean. Investigations undertaken by the FISH-i Africa Task Force have identified the lawless environment that many of these fishing vessels operate in. With little or no operational oversight and pressure to keep costs unrealistically low, fishing vessels are operating illegally and aiming to get away with whatever they can. FISH-i Africa has documented cases where extreme brutality and murder have taken place and this is becoming uncomfortably common. It is time for this exploitation to end. We all have a responsibility to stop human rights abuses and stop illegal fishing.”

Stop Illegal Fishing calls on the coastal States of the Western Indian Ocean to assess their legal framework in terms of labour conditions for crew on fishing vessels operating in their EEZs. Becoming a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention (No 188) to safeguard the working conditions for crew onboard fishing vessels would provide a significant first step to improve this situation. The Convention helps prevent unacceptable forms of work for all fishers, especially migrant fishers. It provides for regulation of the recruitment process and investigation of complaints by fishers. This will help prevent forced labour, trafficking and other abuses. States ratifying Convention No. 188 commit to exercising control over fishing vessels, through inspection, reporting, monitoring, complaint procedures, penalties and corrective measures, and may then also inspect foreign fishing vessels visiting their ports and take appropriate action.