Eighteen Thai fishermen who told relatives they were not receiving enough pay or food aboard an Iranian-flagged fishing boat arrived in Thailand on Monday after being repatriated with the help of a European naval fleet that located their boat in Somali waters.
About five months ago, 42 Thais were recruited and traveled to Iran to work on two Iranian-flagged fishing boats – Wadani 1 and Wadani 2 – which were transferred four years ago from a Thai owner, officials and a crew member said.
Four members of the Wadani 1’s crew returned to Thailand earlier this month, while 14 waited for the final four to be cleared so they could travel to Bangkok together. Officials did not discuss the fate of the 20 Thai crew members on the Wadani 2.
Rescue efforts began earlier this month after a Wadani 1 crew member posted a message on his personal Facebook asking for help because his boat was running low on fuel and food supplies, according to a Thai Navy press release.
The navy asked the European Union Naval Force Somali – a counter piracy operation in Somalian waters – to track down the boats, allowing Thai officials to contact the crews, who said they wanted to go home. The fishing boats have been moored at the port of Bosaso in Somalia, according to the release.
Speaking to reporters at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport after flying home from Dubai, crew members said they had received partial payment for only two months of work. They said they caught plenty of fish on the trip and kept working despite not receiving their money.
“I was promised 15,000 baht (U.S. $486) per month, but I received only 5,000 baht ($162) in the first two months. That’s all,” Thanakorn Chararum told reporters.
“Why didn’t they pay me? Why they made me wait? How can I feed my wife and kids,” Thanakorn said. “We caught lots of fish. We worked for them every day.”
Thirteen of 42 crew members, including eight who returned to Bangkok on Monday, belong to the government’s Overseas Workers Welfare Fund, which assists workers when employers fail to pay their salaries, according to a report by the state-run National News Bureau of Thailand.
Authorities said each was entitled to 30,000 baht (U.S. $972) in compensation.
The fishermen left the airport for a meeting with Labor Minister Jatumongkol Sonakul, who said the ministry would probe their complaints.
“Government agencies involved will question those rescued crew members as well as start an investigation to determine whether the case is related to human trafficking,” he told reporters. “If so, the authorities will proceed accordingly.”
The National News Bureau reported that the government would transport the men to their homes in Buri Ram, Surin, Phetchabun, Samut Sakon and Chaiyaphum provinces.
Thanakorn said he and his friends were hired by a broker known as “Brother Chang.”
Broker Nithiwat Thiranantakul, who is also known as Brother Chang, told a Thai-language newspaper that he handled salary payments to the crew members on behalf of their employer, the Bangkok Post reported, adding he would not name the employer.
The broker claimed he had been unable to pay July salaries because seven seafood containers had yet to pass an inspection by the Department of Fisheries and could not be sold.
“I explained that the reserved money was used up and the Department of Fisheries was still considering releasing the goods,” he said.
Adison Phromthep, the department’s director, challenged the broker’s assertion, according to the Bangkok Post.
“It’s the employer’s responsibility to pay his or her employees their salaries, and this should have nothing to do with the department’s work of inspecting the employer’s catches,” he said.