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NGOs call on the Taiwanese government to end abuse of migrants (Photo: EJF)

State agencies censored for lax handling of fishing vessel

Click on the flag for more information about Taiwan TAIWAN
Friday, May 10, 2019, 23:50 (GMT + 9)

Taipei (CNA) Four central and local government agencies have been censured by the Control Yuan, after it found their lax management of a Taiwanese fishing boat led to an international incident that undermined the country's reputation.

At a press conference Thursday, Wang Mei-yu (王美玉) and Wang You-ling (王幼玲), members of the government watchdog body, released an investigative report into the incident in which the Fuh Sheng No. 11, a Kaohsiung-based deep sea fishing ship, was detained in South Africa last year.

Fuh Sheng arrested in South Africa (Photo: stockfile)

The report blamed the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture (COA) and its subordinate Fisheries Agency (FA), as well as the marine and labor affairs bureaus under Kaohsiung City government for the way in which the Fuh Sheng was allowed to operate, particularly in relation to its treatment of foreign crew members.

The pair criticized the COA and FA for going through the motions, failing to determine the facts on the ground or respond adequately, when the Fuh Sheng was targeted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) after a complain was filed by Indonesian fishermen in 2018.

The Fuh Sheng was detained in Cape Town, South Africa on May 17 that year for violating the United Nations' Work in Fishing Convention, 2007, following complaints by Indonesian crew members to the local Indonesian consulate about on-board working conditions.

Fuh Sheng arrested in South Africa (Photo EJF)

The vessel from Taiwan was the first in the world to be detained for such a reason, heavily tarnishing Taiwan's image, the report said.

After the ship was detained, two inspectors from the South African Maritime Safety Authority identified a long list of problems, including "lack of documentation, poor accommodation, insufficient food for fishers, and poor safety and health conditions on board," the ILO said at the time.

"Only two of the crew members had work agreements and there was not even a crew list," the ILO said, adding that crew members complained of having to manually pull in their catches and carry heavy loads to the fish storage facility, while some said they wanted to leave the vessel.

Slipping Through the Net from Environmental Justice Foundation on Vimeo.

The ship's owner was required to address the problems identified by the inspection carried out under the provisions of the Convention, which took effect in November 2017 and seeks to protect the 38 million workers in the industry across the globe, the ILO said.

According to Wang Mei-yu, a COA official posted in Cape Town was sent to interview Indonesian and Myanmar crew members hired by the Fuh Sheng, on May 25 last year.

However, the interviews with Myanmar crew members were aborted and those with Indonesian fishermen conducted with the help of Apps, because the COA official failed to bring interpreters.

With 23.5 million inhabitants, Taiwan is the most populous state and largest economy that is not a member of the United Nations (UN).

Wang also pointed out that the interviews were not held one-on-one as required, which she said reflected lax management on the part of the COA.

The investigation uncovered a host of problems that included a monthly wage below US$450, a lack of clean water and insufficient sleep time for the crew, which were all in contravention of Taiwan's law, she said, adding that another COA official was guilty of dereliction of duty for failing to handle the matter in a timely manner.

This lax approach to management on the part of COA officials resulted in the July 17 ILO report on the case, that seriously tarnished Taiwan's image, she noted.

Read EJF report here

In addition, two officials at Kaohsiung's maritime and labor affairs bureau were also held responsible for mismanaging the employment of foreign fishermen, because the Fuh Sheng hired a foreign crew member as its captain in place of a Taiwanese national when sailing back from Mauritius to Taiwan.

After a detailed investigation following the vessel's return to Taiwan at the end of July, the ship's owner was fined NT$3.75 million (US$121,406) for abusing foreign crew and catching protected sharks on Nov. 28. 2018. 

(By Flor Wang and Yeh Su-ping)


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