BY ANDREW MWANGURA
How long would Eastern African countries continue to watch fishing vessels violate labour standards for their onboard crews? Time is ripe for the region’s governments to act on this important maritime issue.
The only way they would achieve that is by granting a moratorium on high seas transshipment by tuna long-line vessels in the Indian Ocean.
The moratorium should extend for a sufficient period within which the fishing companies implement fair labor standards throughout their supply chains to protect the crews, that is fishers and seafarers.
Transshipment is the process where fishing vessels transfer their catch, supplies, and in some cases fishers on the high seas, generally in international waters, far from land and any national or international inspectors or law enforcement officials.
This practice allows fishing vessels to spend months or even years at sea without oversight. This type of unregulated situation provides a climate for malpractices such as illegal fishing, human and drugs trafficking, smuggling of small arms, extreme labor abuses, and debt bondage.
SAFETY AND PROTECTIONS
Serious injuries, safety violations, and even murder also can and do happen. Fishers of all nationalities deserve to have basic safety and health protections, work in an environment free from physical or mental abuse, and have the right to organize/freely associate to protect them.
Too often, fishers are beaten or even killed for asserting their rights, and it’s time for us to take action against transshipment to protect everyone on the high seas.
The idea of a moratorium on transshipment can be affected and remain in force until fishing companies agree to force every vessel in their supply chain to abide by fair labor standards.
Tuna long-line vessels currently operate with minimal supervision – most do not even have an observer on board. This limits the ability to determine the numbers and species of tuna caught, allows transshipment to occur, and contributes to a system that allows captains and companies to violate labor rights with impunity.
Until there is more monitoring, control and surveillance of long line tuna fleets throughout the supply chain, Kenyan fishers and their migrant counterparts from Indonesia, Tanzania, Malagasy, Seychellois, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos unnecessarily face poor working conditions and egregious human and labor rights violations.
Transshipments allow fishers to be kept at sea for long periods of time, sometimes in sub-standard vessels where they, together with observers, have no way to report abuse or escape.
Fishers should not be forced to risk their lives and endure extreme labor abuses or slavery at sea so that multinational companies can make massive profits supplying the tuna consumers enjoy.
Current regulations and penalties have minimal deterrent effect, and are generally unenforced. This allows human and labor rights abuses to continue unabated, facilitates IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing), and impacts on the conservation of tuna stocks, sharks, and other species. Transshipments reduce and even eliminate the reliance of industrial fleets on local port services and local processing facilities, and limit the capability of national enforcement systems to effectively monitor and remedy the situation.
For this reason, we appreciate and wait with expectation for the implementation of the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA), adopted as a FAO Agreement in 2009.
After several years of diplomatic efforts finally it went into effect, in June 5, 2016 and is now legally binding for the 29 countries and one regional organization which signed it.
Through the adoption and implementation of effective port state measures, the PSMA is the first ever binding international treaty seeking to prevent, deter and eliminate the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, a major environmental problem which causes great economic damages and threaten food security in many countries.
However, our concern is not only for the marine resources. The fishing industry has been widely recognized as one of the most unsafe for the frequency of occupational accidents and high death rates.
We would like to call our attention also on the many fishers which find themselves in situation of exploitation and abuses.
Unfortunately, it is not well known the tragic reality that, within the fishing industry, there are hundreds of thousands of internal/transnational migrants who are smuggled/ trafficked for forced labor on board of fishing vessels.
This is favored by a network of criminal organizations and individuals who prey on people coming from situation of poverty, eagerly seeking an employment that could help them to break away from the circle of misery. Instead, they end up in a situation of trafficking, debt bondage and slavery often without a way out.
In fact, the fishing vessels stay out at sea for long periods (from a few months to several years), and the victims of these crimes find it difficult, if not impossible, to report their predicaments. Human trafficking is a crime against humanity.
We must unite our efforts to free the victims and stop this increasingly aggressive crime which threatens not only individuals but the basic values of society and of international security and justice, to say nothing of the economy, and the fabric of the family and our coexistence.
We would like to renew our appeal to the Governments to ratify the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188), to create a safe working environment on board of fishing vessels and better welfare provisions for fishers.
The Convention has now been ratified by: Angola, Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Congo, Estonia, France, Morocco, Norway and South Africa.
While we express our gratitude to the chaplains and volunteers of the Missions to Seafarers and the Apostleship of the Sea, we would like to call on them to be vigilant and intensify their presence in fishing harbors to identify and rescue victims of human trafficking.