Police arrested two officials from a recruiting agency on suspicion of trying to bring in undetected the corpses of three sailors who died on a Chinese fishing boat, authorities in Indonesia’s Riau Islands said Friday, in yet another case of Indonesians who perished aboard China-flagged ships.
In addition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that another Indonesian sailor had died on a Chinese boat operating in Peruvian waters on Aug. 11. The four new deaths brings the reported number of Indonesian crew members who have died while aboard Chinese fishing boats to at least 16 since late last year. Some of those who died were treated harshly and made to work in strenuous conditions, according to Indonesian labor activists and officials.
In the latest case, the bodies of the three sailors were moved from a China-flagged boat, Fu Yuan Yu 829, as it passed through waters off Batam, said Arie Dharmanto, the provincial police chief criminal investigator. The bodies were discovered Wednesday.
“The Fu Yuan Yu 829 did not dare dock, but instead contacted a recruiting agency to pick up the bodies,” Arie told BenarNews on Friday, adding the agency had hired three local fishermen to pick up the bodies after promising to pay them hundreds of millions of rupiah.
Arie did not name the agency, but said the pair of suspects in custody faced human trafficking charges, which can carry life sentences upon conviction.
“We have arrested the two suspects, ‘J’ the director, and ‘E’ the manager,” Arie said. “This case is still being investigated.”
But according to news service Agence France-Presse, officials said they had arrested six suspects in the case. BenarNews could not immediately verify the report about the arrests of four other suspects.
Police identified the victims as Syaban, 22, and Musnan, 26, from Aceh province, and Dicky Arya Nugraha, 23, from Donggala, a regency in Central Sulawesi. The bodies were taken to a hospital for autopsies.
Also on Friday, the Indonesian foreign office confirmed the death of an Indonesian crewman aboard a Chinese boat in waters off Peru.
“True. S.A. died onboard the Long Xin 629,” spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told BenarNews, referring to the initials of the crew member who died on Aug. 11.
The ministry had received information about the death after a crew member reported it to the Indonesian fisheries workers’ union in South Korea. It has since contacted Chinese officials and the boat owner for details, Faizasyah said, adding that the cause of death had not been determined.
“The boat is still sailing around the Peruvian waters so we cannot obtain much information regarding the death,” Faizasyah said.
In April, Indonesian officials reported the deaths of four Indonesians who had served as crew on the Long Xin 629.
Three of the crewmen died sometime between December 2019 and March 2020 and their bodies were thrown into the sea. The fourth victim was transferred to another boat and died in a South Korean hospital.
At that time, a South Korean television station showed video footage of one of the bodies being thrown overboard. In an interview, an Indonesian crew member said he and others were sometimes forced to work 30 straight hours while standing and were given only six hours to eat and sleep before resuming their duties.
Police had arrested three suspects tied to those deaths.
On July 8, the Riau Islands provincial police recovered a corpse on the Lu Huang Yuan Yu 117 boat after receiving a tip that an Indonesian crewman’s sailor had been kept in cold storage aboard the boat for about a week. Police said their investigation continued after naming six suspects including the boat’s captain and a Chinese national identified as Song Chuanyun.
Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta did not immediately respond on Friday to BenarNews requests for comment.
NGO coordinator calls for action
Mohammad Abdi Suhufan, coordinator of the Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, urged the government to establish a policy to prevent similar incidents from happening.
“The government’s efforts were not optimal. There is no data collection, guidance for agents, or evaluations,” Abdi told BenarNews.
His group is an NGO dedicated to protecting Indonesians who were in the fishing sector.
He expressed concern that a majority of the victims were young men.
“This shows that job opportunities in Indonesia are very limited so they choose to work abroad at all costs,” he said.
Judha Nugraha, the foreign ministry’s director for protection of Indonesians overseas, said diplomatic steps had been taken and the government had previously demanded that the Chinese government conduct a thorough investigation into the deaths.
“Indonesia is still waiting for the results of the investigation,” he said during a news conference on Thursday, the day before the latest report of deaths surfaced.