Slavery at sea is coming under attack in the US. reports the New York Times as President Obama signs laws that will ban of fish caught by slave labour in South East Asia, one of several measures being taken to protect seafarers forced to work under abominable and dangerous conditions.
A Port State Measures Agreement, will empower officials to stop foreign vessels suspected of illegal fishing from receiving port services and access. The United States became the 20th country to ratify the pact.
In addition the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA has announced plans to improve how seafood is tracked from catch to market, with new reporting requirements for American importers.
Says the New York Times report: “Two of the world’s largest trade unions filed a complaint last week with the United Nations’ labor agency about seafood from Thailand produced by so-called sea slaves, and the Thai government said it was installing satellite tracking devices on more fishing ships and requiring more reporting as workers get on or off the vessels.”
“Step by step, I do really think we’re making progress, and there is a growing awareness of how much we need to get more control over the world’s oceans and the range of crime that happens out there,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview on Monday. He added that he hoped to build on the momentum in the fall during a global meeting, called Our Oceans, that he will host in Washington.
The amendment that the president has said he will sign this week would close a loophole in the Tariff Act of 1930, which bars products made by convict, forced or indentured labor. For 85 years, the law has exempted goods derived from slavery if American domestic production could not meet demand.
In July, The New York Times published an article about forced labor on Thai boats, many of which catch the fish destined for pet food. It chronicled the lives of several dozen indentured Cambodian migrants, most of them boys, working on the ships, all of whom are now free. Among them was a man named Lang Long, who was shackled by the neck during his three years of captivity at sea.
About 90 percent of seafood for human and pet consumption in the United States is imported, and NOAA’s proposed rules are meant to protect threatened fish species and crack down on seafood entering American ports that has been caught illegally or is fraudulently labelled. The new rules would impose chain-of-custody reporting requirements for 13 species of at-risk fish, including cod, snapper, mahi mahi and several types of tuna.
Two of the largest labor unions, the International Transport Workers’ Federation and International Trade Union Confederation, filed a complaint at the International Labor Organization, which is part of the United Nations, about the use of forced labour to produce Thai seafood.
“The Thai government has shown a willingness to react, but there are still big gaps in their laws, and even more so in how they enforce them,” says Steve Cotton, the general secretary of the transport union, which represents 4.7 million rail, trucking and maritime workers worldwide.
Cotton said the next step would be for the United Nations labor organization to send a team to investigate the allegations. The complaint carries more weight because it was sponsored by the trade union confederation, which includes the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and is the world’s largest union, representing 176 million workers.
Recently, Senegal detained another toothfish-poaching vessel, called the Kunlun, that had also been wanted by Interpol, and had been chased into port by Sea Shepherd. The ship was initially detained by Thailand, but several days later it escaped port and disappeared on the high seas.
“If no one stops them, they get away with it,” says Siddharth Chakravarty, a ship captain who was part of that chase and is in the Southern Ocean looking for another wanted ship called the Viking.
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