A lawyer for Indonesians who alleged they had worked in slave-like conditions aboard Chinese fishing boats called Monday for companies that recruited and employed them to be prosecuted for human trafficking and bondage.
Last week, the foreign ministry summoned China’s ambassador to Jakarta over the deaths of four Indonesians and the treatment of others who allegedly worked in harsh conditions on Chinese boats since December 2019.
“What was experienced by the ship crew members constitutes human trafficking, starting from recruitment, their dispatch, abuse and bondage,” said Pahrur Dalimunthe, the attorney for the fishermen.
“Those involved, including the companies that sent them and ship owners must be held to account for their actions,” he told BenarNews.
On Sunday, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi condemned what she called the “inhumane treatment” of the sailors. She said these constituted “violations of human rights.”
“Some of them have not received their salaries, while some of them have received their salaries but the amounts were not in accordance with those stated in their contracts,” Retno said.
She said she was told that the crew members had been forced to work more than 18 hours a day.
“The government has a strong commitment to resolve this case thoroughly,” she said, adding that Indonesia and China would set up a joint investigation into the allegations of abuse.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said Indonesian and Chinese authorities were investigating allegations of mistreatment against the crew members.
“This matter is being followed earnestly through legal processes by both Indonesian and Chinese authorities,” Faizasyah told BenarNews on Monday.
Chinese officials at the embassy in Jakarta could not be immediately reached for comment.
Last week, South Korean media interviewed a crew member who said the bodies of three who died at sea between December and March were thrown overboard despite details in their contract calling for cremation.
The crew member said he and others were sometimes forced to work 30 straight hours while standing and given only six hours to eat and sleep before resuming their duties.
During the meeting when she summoned Chinese Ambassador Xiao Xian on May 7, Retno said she had asked if the burials complied with International Labor Organization standards. Retno said she was assured that the Chinese had followed proper protocol to protect the health of crew members.
Pahrur, the attorney, said the government should not just accept China’s explanation that the sea burials were justified because of COVID-19 concerns.
“The government should not be fooled. There must be evidence that they really died of an infectious disease,” Pahrur told BenarNews.
The lawyer said the four deaths were suspected to be a result of harsh conditions on the boat, including being forced to eat bad food and drink treated sea water. Crew members were paid U.S. $120 for the first three months of work even, although they were promised $300 to $450 per month.
The Foreign Ministry has said that all four of the Indonesian crew members who died had been registered to the Chinese fishing boat Long Xin 629. Two of the crewmen died on the boat in December, while one died in a South Korean hospital on April 27 and the fourth was transferred to another boat and died in March before it could reach port, it said.
On Friday, the Indonesian government repatriated 14 surviving crew members who ended up in the South Korean port city of Busan after their contracts expired. They are undergoing a 14-day quarantine in East Jakarta before being sent to their hometowns.
According to Ferdy Sambo, director of general crimes of at the national police, investigators are to question those involved in the recruitment of the crew members.
“If we find that their departure did not follow proper procedures, we will prosecute the recruitment companies under migrant labor and human trafficking laws,” Sambo told BenarNews.