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Pacific Islands

Indonesia urges Pacific to tackle modern ocean slavery

Bali, Indonesia

By Helen Greig

Indonesia’s fisheries minister has called on the Pacific Tuna Commission to ban transhipment at sea and end human rights abuses rife in the tuna fishing industry.

 Susi Pudjiastuti, Minister of the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said Commission members should follow Indonesia’s lead in banning the practice. She issued the challenge at the opening of the 12th session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Bali on Thursday, December 3.

Illegal fishing is not just about fishing; it is a transnational crime issue. It facilitates crimes like people smuggling, drug smuggling, food and alcohol smuggling. We will enforce our strong IUU regulation and that includes a ban on at-sea transhipment,” the minister said.

Transhipment at sea is a common global practice, typically involving the transfer of catch, supplies and even crew between a fishing vessel and larger “motherships”.

In addition she highlighted the need to address human rights violations in the fishery, asking whether ‘modern slavery’ is being accommodated by the industry.

That we have to stop. It’s just about treating the people better, not beating them up, not holding their salary, or not paying their salary. They are living in conditions that they have no choice – never see the land, never see home,” said Pudjiastuti.

She said of the estimated 700,000 crew members on board fishing vessels around the world, around 60 percent are from Indonesia.

There can be no doubt Pudjiastuti is serious about the issue, saying this month Indonesia intends to declare all fishing activity in its waters must comply with human rights or be shut down. This time last year, Indonesia’s tough new fisheries policies resulted in the sinking of 41 foreign fishing vessels caught poaching in its waters.

At a joint press conference with the Minister, Executive Director of WCPFC, Feleti Teo, said the Commission would be grappling with the issue of exerting greater control over transhipment at its weeklong forum.

Greenpeace Head of Delegation, Lagi Toribau welcomed the call to ban transhipment at sea and looked forward to other countries following suit. “The Government and people of Indonesia will be expecting an outcome and a response to the call for a ban on at-sea transhipment and an end to human rights abuses in the fishing industry and it will be disappointing if the Commission decides to ignore this important pledge.