A 26-year-old Indonesian died aboard a Pakistani boat last week, two months after being removed from a Chinese ship after suffering health problems indicative of forced labor, officials and activists said, bringing to six the number of deaths linked to Chinese fishing boats since December.
On Tuesday, Indonesia’s foreign office said it was coordinating with police and other agencies to investigate the May 22 death of Eko Haryanto at sea near Pakistan. He and a fellow Indonesian reportedly were transferred to the Pakistani boat in March by the captain of the Xianggang Xinhai, the Chinese boat, after Eko complained about his ailing hands, according to Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW), an Indonesian activist group.
“The minister has coordinated with relevant institutions and National Police’s General Crimes Unit to investigate the case,” Teuku Faizasyah, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told BenarNews.
Eko’s body was taken to a hospital in Karachi after he died at sea, and the ministry was planning to return his body and repatriate the other Indonesian, Hamdan, as soon as coronavirus-related travel restrictions were lifted, Teuku said.
“Hamdan is now at the Indonesian Consulate General shelter in Karachi, while Eko’s body is still in the hospital,” Teuku said.
Death reported to complaint center
Hamdan reported Eko’s death through the Fisher Center Tegal, a complaint center coordinated by DFW in Central Java province. In his report, Hamdan provided a video that showed Eko unable to move his right hand.
“The video showed that he was having symptoms of paralysis such as stroke, where he could not move his right hand, plus depression and severe stress. Based on the initial screening, there was forced labor,” Mohammad Abdi Suhufan, the coordinator of DFW, told BenarNews, referring to a viewing of the video.
Eko and Hamdan worked more than 12 hours a day on the Chinese boat and Eko was ordered to keep on working although he had complained about a pain in his hands, Abdi said.
The pair had worked aboard the Xianggang Xinhai since November 2019, according to DFW. Both men were promised a monthly salary of U.S. $300 (4.4 million rupiah) but had not been paid, Hamdan alleged in his complaint to DFW.
The two had been recruited for the Chinese boat by PT Mandiri Tunggal Bahari, the same Indonesian manpower recruitment firm allegedly involved in the case of Herdiyanto, an Indonesian crewman who died on a Chinese fishing boat, Luqing Yuan Yu 623, and whose body was tossed into Somali waters on Jan. 23 a week after his death, Abdi said.
“The government should make sure PT Mandiri Tunggal Bahari takes full responsibility for Eko’s death,” Abdi said.
During the past two weeks, Indonesian police have named five people from four local agencies who were allegedly recruiting workers for two Chinese fishing boats, the Luqing Yuan Yu 623 and Long Xin 629, as suspects in human trafficking. Police have arrested all five but they have not filed charges under the country’s anti-human trafficking laws.
Authorities opened the case into Herdiyanto’s death after a video, which showed his body being thrown overboard off Luqing Yuan Yu 623, had circulated on social media, while a second video showed him being assisted by three other people because he could not walk.
Central Java police were conducting the probe into PT Mandiri Tunggal Bahari, said Ferdy Sambo, director of the general crimes unit at the national police, without going into detail.
Police launched the probe into the Hediyanto case after the Indonesian government earlier this month complained to the Chinese government about the deaths of four other Indonesians who had allegedly worked in harsh conditions as crew member on Chinese fishing boats. Bodies of three of those four were allegedly thrown overboard, a crew member said in an interview with South Korean media.
On May 10, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi condemned the alleged mistreatment of the four Indonesian sailors, and said she had been told they were forced to work at least 18 hours a day. Indonesia and China were launching a joint investigation into the allegations of abuse, Retno said at the time.
On Tuesday, officials at the Chinese embassy in Jakarta could not be immediately reached to answer questions about Eko’s death.