The supervisor of a Chinese fishing boat has been arrested on charges of assault and human trafficking after the death of an Indonesian crew member whose corpse was discovered last week, police in Indonesia’s Riau Islands said.
Indonesian authorities detained two Chinese boats as they sailed near Singapore on July 8 after police received a tip that the body of the Indonesian sailor – later identified as Hasan Afriandi, 20 – had been kept in cold storage on one of the boats for a week.
A Chinese national, Song Chuanyun, 50, has been named a suspect in connection with Hasan’s death and was moved to a police detention cell on Friday night, according to Arie Dharmanto, the chief criminal investigator for police in Riau Islands province.
“The suspect is in police custody for further questioning,” Arie told BenarNews on Tuesday, adding that other crew members were being questioned as well.
Citing information from other sailors, Arie said Song and the boat’s captain allegedly assaulted other Indonesian crew members. The captain has not been named as a suspect but is being investigated by police.
Brig. Gen. Ferdy Sambo, director of criminal investigations at the National Police, alleged that Song had frequently mistreated crew members, including Hasan.
“The supervisor assaulted the victim with his feet and hands,” Ferdy told BenarNews.
Arie said Song would be tried in Indonesia because the alleged assault occurred in Indonesian waters. If convicted, Song could face up to 20 years in prison.
Last week, a Chinese government spokesman challenged the claim to prosecute the case, saying the two boats were in international waters.
“China asks the Indonesian side to take concrete, effective measures to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese fishing vessel and crew members, and deal with the matter as properly and quickly as possible,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in response to a question at his press briefing on July 10.
Hasan’s case marked the latest incident where Indonesians linked to Chinese fishing boats have died.
Officials reported at least eight deaths since November 2019 including some where the corpses were thrown overboard. Surviving crewmen have complained of harsh conditions.
The boats involved in the most recent incident were sailing off Nipa Island near Singapore when they were stopped and their crews detained by Indonesian Coast Guard ships last week, police said.
Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, an NGO, said an Indonesian working aboard the Lu Huang Yuan Yu 118 called its 24-hour hotline to report the death of a compatriot who allegedly had been physically abused. DFW passed the tip to a team of police, naval and coast guard personnel.
Hasan’s body was discovered on the other boat, Lu Huang Yuan Yu 117.
“Apparently the body was moved from one ship to the other, which is owned by the same company,” DFW coordinator Mohammad Abdi Suhufan told BenarNews last week.
Muhammad Haris, chief physician for the Riau Islands police, said an examination of Hasan’s body found bruises, scars and a spinal injury.
“Organs such as the lungs, heart and the appendix showed signs of chronic disease,” Haris told the Tribunnews website.
The Chinese embassy in Jakarta did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a BenarNews request for comment.
In May, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi condemned the alleged mistreatment of the Indonesian sailors and summoned China’s ambassador to Jakarta to respond to her concerns. She asked the Chinese ambassador to explain why sailors’ corpses had been thrown overboard.
Retno was reacting to a South Korean media report showing an Indonesian crew member who had said three bodies were thrown into the sea between December 2019 and March. The report alleged that Indonesian crew members were sometimes forced to work 30 straight hours while standing and were given only six hours to eat and sleep before resuming their duties.
On June 5, two Indonesian sailors jumped from a Chinese-flagged fishing boat as it sailed in the Malacca Strait, according to officials. They were rescued off Karimun, an island in the Riau Islands, and taken there the next day after drifting for seven hours.
Six days later, Retno urged the Chinese government to conduct “transparent and fair” investigations into the deaths of Indonesian crew members who allegedly were subjected to harsh treatment akin to forced labor.
Last week, Central Java police spokesman Iskandar Fitriana Sutisna said two top executives at a labor recruitment agency had been formally charged with human trafficking and would stand trial. The pair and others allegedly recruited Indonesians to work on the Chinese fishing boats.
In addition, investigators have named nine people as suspects in the case, according to the Riau Islands police. Arie said investigators are trying to track down a Singapore citizen who is suspected of being a broker as well.
Indonesian police previously reported arresting five people from four labor agencies in connection with previous cases.
Police did not release details about those arrested.